One of the things I love most about Taipei is the constant arrival of new and exciting technology. Ever since I wrote Part I of this article over a year ago, there has been steady and continued growth in smartphone use and app development in Taiwan. Including the influx of localized apps from foreign tech companies, there are an incredible amount of apps to choose from. Here are a few you may want to consider for your Taipei adventures.
We’ve written about Uber before, but it’s worth mentioning again. When it comes to public transportation in Taipei, there are countless ways to get around, but only one that allows you to cruise through the city in fancy black cars (unless you are in some way connected to the local mafia). Uber Taipei functions very much like a taxi service, but with an emphasis on the smartphone experience. In order to use Uber, you are required to create a profile and add a payment method (credit or debit card). Getting a ride is easy, just drop the pin on your current location, select your dropoff location, and wait for your driver to pick you up. What makes Uber convenient is that when you arrive at your destination, Uber will directly charge the card on your account so there’s no need to pay the driver. According to the website, the current base fare starts at NT$105, which is significantly higher than local taxi services–but in the end, you get what you pay for.
**Enter promo code “Taipei543” to get a FREE Uber ride up to NT$350 (new users only)**
Music streaming service Spotify took a while to get to Taiwan, but it’s finally here! For those of us who had to use a VPN to access our Spotify accounts, this is great news. For the uninitiated, Spotify is a music streaming service similar to Taiwan’s KKBox that allows you to stream full length songs from Spotify’s database, which includes both Mandarin and Western selections. The service is free, but contains audio advertisements unless you decide to pay for Spotify Premium (NT$149/month). Spotify recently announced that its smartphone app, which previously was accessible only by Spotify Premium users, is now available to everyone. However, there is a catch; free users are able to browse music and access their playlists, but can only play music in shuffle mode. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem like much of a tradeoff when it comes to free music; I’ll take it.
If you’re like me and can only read every other character on a Chinese menu, then you know how helpful your smartphone can be. WayGo is an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) service that uses your smartphone’s camera to read Chinese characters and instantly translate them into English. It’s not unlike Pleco’s OCR, but whereas Pleco’s free version will only recognize the characters without giving you a translation, WayGo’s free version gives you 10 free translations per day. Taipei-based writer for TechCrunch, Catherine Shu, wrote a nice, thorough review of WayGo awhile back. Even with its 10 translations per day limitation, it’s still a nice app that might just come in handy at the most critical of times.
Price: Free; in-app purchases vary
Platform: iOS, Android version currently in beta
The concept behind Airbnb might be scary for some, but it’s definitely a fun and unique way to travel if you’re willing to take a leap of faith. Airbnb is essentially a home/space sharing service that allows hosts to connect with people looking for a place to stay. The app is clean, easy to navigate, and allows you to view full screen photos of the listings. The listings range from individual rooms to entire suites and apartments and from the looks of it, many of them are arranged with design in mind. You’ll have to create an Airbnb account to book, but the process seems very straightforward. I haven’t used the service myself, but all my friends who’ve used it before had nothing bad to say about their experiences. There are 962 listings in Taipei which is plenty to choose from. It’s a great way to avoid paying for overpriced hotel rooms while making the most of your stay. Additionally, if you live in Taipei and want to rent out your space, you can do it directly through your smartphone.
I’m sure you’ve all seen people riding the orange U-bikes on the streets of Taipei. The U-bike (aka YouBike) is a public bicycle sharing system put in place by the city government to encourage environmentally friendly forms of transportation. All you have to do is swipe your EasyCard at the dock and the first 30 minutes are free (EasyCard registration is required). There are many apps out there that track U-bike availability and locations, including one released by the government, but none of them come close to beating ubike in UI design and functionality. Created by SMD Lab, ubike provides a beautiful interface that shows you how many U-bikes are available at each station, the current weather, and even how many total U-bikes are currently in transit. There’s even a 30 minute timer to help you keep track of time and locations are listed in English, which is convenient.
Learn more about transportation options in Taipei here: “No Car or Scooter? 6 Other Ways to Get Around Taipei“
These are just 5 out of the many apps out there. If you know of other useful apps, feel free to share them in the comment section below.