If you don’t speak the language of plants, other people’s talk of different trees, shrubs, and flowers is just a bunch of words.

It’s probable that many relationships have foundered early due to one party or the other not knowing their fuchsias from their geraniums from their hyacinths.

“Will you just look at that agapanthus over there!”

“Yes, very … petal-y.”

What to do if you are cursed with botanical ignorance? Which we define not as failing to know the Latin name of every genus—that’s just nerdy—but having next to no idea even what popular name plants go by.

Well, seeing as this is a technology feature, you probably know what’s coming next: yes, there are apps for this.

There’s been a blizzard of ads on social media this spring for these plant-identification apps, which have you hold your phone camera up to a flower, leaf, or tree, then within a few seconds use A.I. in the cloud to tell you what you’re looking at, along with information on it.

Some of these apps are reputedly not great, but we’ve been trying out PictureThis, from a company called Glority in beautiful Hangzhou, China, and it’s not merely growing on us—it’s rather sensational.

In our tests of common or garden plants whose identity we already knew, it achieved better than the 98 percent accuracy Glority claims; it didn’t make a mistake.

It came up with names and a ton of well-written and interesting information for the most nondescript weeds, which is impressive. It identified one such weed as Saint-John’s-wort, which people pay good money for as a treatment for depression.

On a tougher test, in the world’s highly renowned botanical center—London’s Kew Gardens—it struggled with some of the more exotic plants, slightly mis-identifying the Himalayan dwarf fishtail palm, for example.

But it got rarities such as the red ti plant (a shrub that symbolizes the connection between the living and the dead for some Austronesian cultures, as we’re sure you know) spot on. Similarly, Polynesian ivy, Ming aralia, the Kandyan dancer orchid, and even the Brazilian joyweed.

Glority gives sparse information on PictureThis, other than that “the botanist in your pocket” uses A.I. deep-learning technology to leverage a database of “billions” of plant images to identify 10,000 plant species, and performs more than a million identifications a day.

This sporty new contraption gives users a leg up by stimulating blood flow to sore muscles. (Firefly, from $45, recoveryfirefly.com)


If your leg muscles are prone to feeling like you’ve run a marathon even if you’ve only overdone things un peu on the Peloton, a tiny gadget weighing less than half an ounce is likely to be your shortcut to muscle recovery.

Firefly is a slightly adapted version of a medical device called Geko, which is used in the U.S. and the U.K. to electronically stimulate blood flow by applying microcurrents through the skin to the common peroneal nerve. This stimulates the calf and foot muscles to flex and thereby increase blood flow, even if you’re in bed, and can help avoid both deep-vein thrombosis and stroke. It has been used with intubated coronavirus patients.

Firefly, the athletic variant of the Geko device available to regular consumers, resembles a lightweight wristwatch strapped to the legs and is used by more than 200 professional and college sports teams in the U.S. to speed muscle recovery.

It claims to increase blood flow by up to 400 percent and promote recovery three times faster. It can do its work in anything from an hour or two to 12 hours, and it has around 30 hours of battery life, after which the device is disposable.

Firefly can also be used to keep your legs healthy on long-haul flights. The long-distance runner Galen Rupp, a U.S. Olympic medalist, says he tends to not get out of his seat on long flights, letting Firefly keep his blood flowing instead.

The Air up there: Apple has unveiled a pleasant surprise with the latest iteration of its lighter, less expensive tablet model. (iPad Air, fifth generation; from $599; bestbuy.com)


The time may come when new Apple products are no longer much of a big deal. This could happen for two reasons.

One is that the current device hegemony could end, the one whereby pretty much everyone in the world who is influential, and everyone they know, uses iPhones, MacBooks, and iPads.

The second is that the current reality—that Apple products work better and look better than anyone else’s—could become obsolete. It probably will, in fact. Most technology companies do have a limited useful life span, even if they stagger on in some form, as have Kodak, Palm, and BlackBerry.

But the likes of Compaq, Pebble, even Friends Reunited, a fully functioning British-based social network that preceded Facebook by four years, show how swiftly even the memory of defunct tech companies fades.

If Apple has blinked once in the 25-plus years of its heyday, it was last fall with the introduction of the iPhone 13, which was almost indistinguishable from the 12. If they, as they surely will, launch an iPhone 14 this coming fall, it urgently needs to be something special.

It seemed to be another meh moment when Apple announced a new iPad Air, the fifth version, this spring. It had the very contemporary squared-off shape of the iPhone and the iPad Pro range but, seemingly to keep the price down, lacked a great camera and some of the augmented-reality features of the best iPads.

Then something odd happened. Everyone, this columnist included, slowly started to fall in love with the new iPad Air, and not just because it’s quite a bit cheaper than the Pro models.

The reason is that the Air does all the things we love in an iPad, and none of the things that average adult humans couldn’t care less about.

We love that, with its Apple-made M1 chip, it’s as fast a computer as a MacBook. We love that we can watch Netflix on its superb screen on a plane. Or in bed, enjoying its spookily good landscape stereo speakers.

We love that it fits Apple’s magnificent floating-effect Magic Keyboard ($299) to morph into a compact and passable—not great, in truth, but workable—laptop-like structure.

We love that it includes Center Stage, so the front camera automatically focuses on the person who’s speaking on a FaceTime call. We sort of appreciate that the Air works on 5G, even though, for most people, good 4G is more important than warp-speed data connections.

The things we have no need for in an iPad, we do not miss in the new Air. Such as a good camera. Who uses an iPad as a camera? People’s grandparents in Florida, that’s who. Who has the need, or the energy, to use the iPad Pro’s lidar depth sensors to show how a new Ikea sofa will look in our home? Very few.

Tech is not like fine watches, where complications are a good thing. We like feature-reduced excellence. Which is why the iPad Air (fifth generation) is a hit.

Oenophiles can get down to business faster, thanks to this gizmo that tailors its fabricated aeration times. (Aveine Smart Wine Aerator, $499, amazon.com)


Oenophiles tend to shy away from insisting that all wine needs to be aerated before drinking. But the consensus view is that most reds, at least, do benefit from decanting, to remove the harsh edges and open up the full range of subtleties.

This French gadget, Aveine, claims not only to speed up the aerating process to instantaneous but also to customize it and mimic the correct aeration period for a particular wine, for as long as 24 hours.

First, you use the companion smartphone app to read the label on the bottle and determine the ideal aeration time for the wine, or something very similar to it. The app then connects wirelessly to the Aveine and adjusts its aeration level on the spot, leaving you to pour the improved wine immediately.

The device works by using a motor to inject air into the wine. The non-experts among us, who judge a wine, basically, by how wine-flavored it is, will almost certainly notice that Aveine-treated wine tastes better than the same freshly opened but not aerated. Some experts, too, who have tried Aveine, claim that it improves a fine wine—and that it works a lot better than other, (much) cheaper aerators already available for $100 or less.

Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology