Can Google apps help you to cook, travel, blog or live better?
My feeling towards Google veers from awe and amazement, to fear it’s starting to take over the everything. Perhaps one day we’ll be locked in our houses by Google-controlled entry keys and our only interface with the world will be via Google!* However…
…as my job and this blog requires me to be knowledgeable about latest developments (and I have a strong inner geek streak), last month I said ‘yes’ to an invite and shot up in the lift to the penthouse suite on the 69th floor of the JW Marriot Marquis for Google House highly intrigued, but not sure what to expect.
After a heart-warming video about a farmer in Africa (see below), and a few more Google apps downloaded on my phone, we were led from room to room to see how Google could enhance our everyday lives.
In the kitchen
We were greeted by popular Dubai One TV Chef Osama Atyab who demonstrated how various features could help out in the heart of the home. If you’ve got a smart phone, tablet or computer and an internet connection in the kitchen you can:
- Watch video content from advice, tips, tutorials to cooking channels on YouTube.
- Join a live video conversation with one or more (up to 10) of your friends or foodies through Google+ Hangouts. You could invite anyone into your kitchen from asking your Mum how to boil an egg, having a virtual cooking lesson, or enjoying a joint meal with a group anywhere in the world.
- Reading a recipe on your tablet or phone is nothing new but if your hands are coated in dough, or you need to ask something about the recipe then Voice Search on Google allows you to find nutritional info, recipes, and measurements hands free. For instance, I just asked ‘how many ounces in a kilogram?’ and a very nice lady answered ‘35.273 ounces in a kilogram’. Try it and see.
- Getting low on ingredients? You can add a reminder in Google Now to buy something and add a local supermarket to trigger the reminder e.g. say “Remind me to buy milk when I’m near Waitrose”
A few of my favourite links
If this has got you interested here are a few places to start:
- Sorted Food – Set up and run by a bunch of (young, male, good-looking) mates this is now Europe’s largest cooking community on YouTube. Very clear instructive videos that aren’t boring.
- Caroline Mili Artiss – who I’ve met a couple of times and she’s absolutely lovely as well as a great cook. She was one of the first TV chef’s to be discovered on YouTube in the UK and so popular she’s found success on TV in the USA, Asia and UK.
- River Cottage Food Tube – Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall and the River Cottage cookery school crew take you into the Dorset countryside and into their kitchen.
- Chef Dennis Littley offers advice to food bloggers on using Google + and holds regular Hangouts from discussions to cooking demos.
- …and you can hang out with me on Google + here.
Many functions have been added to Google maps so you can plan your journey by car, public transport or on foot, including time, distance and current areas of traffic congestion. Street view is expanding to include the inside of some major landmarks – soon to include the Burj Khalifa (although whether street view will extend throughout Dubai is debatable).
It does mean that in most areas of the world you can check out your location in detail before you travel (for instance, find out if the place you booked is close to the sea), plan your journey there and even experience some of the major sights if you can’t get there in person. You could set up a travel blog without leaving your armchair (joke….sort of).
Google Now organises your information so you can plan your route, check the weather and currency conversion rates, find restaurants in the local area and monitor your flight schedules.
Google Translate is getting really interesting; currently with 80 languages and 5112 language pairs, the app for Android (ios coming soon) is the linguistically challenged gourmet traveler’s friend. You can take a picture of an item on the menu and it will translate for you. On the up side, you’ll never order sheep’s head by accident ever again; on the down this takes the fun out of adventurous travel and the potential for funny stories. The voice activation on the app (on all platforms) means you can translate on the go – and listen to the pronunciation in some languages.
Tools for bloggers (and fashionistas)
This section was demonstrated in the bedroom with a girl trying on outfits, asking a friend’s opinion via Google Hangouts then looking at Google Trends to make sure the eye-make up style she was wearing was the very latest fashion. Google Trends is something I’m going to be paying much more attention to in the future. Type in key words to see their ranking worldwide or in a Geographic area. Great for SEO and generating blog topics or headlines for your blog articles.
The Auto Awesome feature on Google + could be very handy for making beautiful images for your blog or to share on your social channels (generated on your computer or Android device). It’s a bit like magic; Google automatically detects images that are likely to look good as a GIF (short moving image animation). Here’s a video to explain how it’s done. Wide-screen panoramas and mini-movies are also possible.
Look Mum, no hands
An image is doing the rounds of three teenagers walking around completely absorbed in their smart phones. I venture that it’s not just teenagers who are guilty; definitely a culprit myself and have even seen Mums with toddlers standing at the side of busy roads staring at their mini-screens. Google Glass is the solution and I got the chance to try it out.
Connected by Bluetooth to your phone, it enables you to perform a wide variety of functions through voice commands and swiping the side (arm) of the glasses. Not quite as exciting as I’d expected (not ‘augmented reality’ …yet) however surprisingly easy to use. The text hovers slightly above your sight-line so you can take a video, get directions to a destination, dictate and send a text etc. etc. The sunglasses style was really unobtrusive. “You should get a Chanel version for Dubai” I suggested, which went down a storm. My polite commands (please and thank you Glass) caused much amusement. Is there a British English version?
It’s easy to see these catching on very quickly as we all strive to multi-multi-task. Dubai Police are adopting them (very easy to film an offender quickly and unobtrusively) – but wouldn’t they be incredibly distracting while driving (and how would you detect that someone was wearing them?).
In the teen’s bedroom of the Google house, the very useful collaborative tool Google Docs was highlighted. To quote Google “Allows to create rich documents with images, tables, equations, drawings, links and more. Share lists, track projects, analyse data and track results. You can also create beautiful presentations with our presentation editor which supports embedded videos, animations and dynamic slide transitions.” I’ve used it successfully on many joint projects but with this description I’m sure that I’m not using it to maximum potential.
Google Cultural Institute allows you to visit museums, artefacts, arts and galleries from various parts of the globe. Google is busy compiling curricula, on YouTube, from around the world via teachers and education institutions to provide an extensive, accessible bank of knowledge.
A step away from reality?
I’ll admit that these last two initiatives had me in a quandary. The obvious benefits are to give access to this wealth of information to people who would otherwise not be able to experience or view it. While laudable, will students who see a virtual version of a place, e.g. The Louvre, still have the same compulsion to visit it reality? Having been recently moved to tears in a Museum (in Georgia) through an exhibition which was more than the sum of its parts, and marveled at the precision and beauty of a gold cup fashioned before they invented the wheel, we must never allow virtual reality to take over the real-life experience. Education should be for all, and while these education initiatives could potentially reach children excluded by politics, gender or economics, it also places the control of information within a central powerful entity.
The future according to Google
These Google products are truly innovative – Google is committed to providing the best, relevant information to users, in most cases. However, Google doesn’t share everything; it is difficult to share on Google + through other apps or channels; my WordPress dashboard used to be full of search terms people used to find my blog, but Google, while giving access to this plethora of amazing free tools (plus others like Google Analytics), now limits that information.
As I came back down to ground level in the elevator, Google House left me with many thoughts. The extraordinary pace of innovation, the central role it now plays in our lives and a fairly mind-boggling future.
Do these Google apps fill you with excitement of the wonderful possibilities? Or fear that civil liberties are in danger and this is all sounding like ‘Big Brother’? Or (like me) a bit of both?
* This is not as mad as it sounds as Google acquired Nest Labs earlier this year and its appliance that controlled the temperature of a home based on user habits – such as when they get up or arrive home from work – or how hot or cold it was outside. While it is the first foray into people’s homes, a spokesperson for Google said that could increase in the near future. Source: The National. AlsoApple announced Home Automation this week which turns of lights, sets thermostats and locks doors.