On the road with Google: Your favourite travel guide
Fifteen years ago, if you had asked Anal Ghosh, Program Manager at Google Maps India, which product Google is primarily focusing on, he would have said ‘Search’. But now, with the tech giant’s vast repertoire of projects and products, it is impossible for him to give such a simple answer. “It’s not as easy as associating the iPhone with Apple or Windows with Microsoft,” he says, as we tuck into a plateful of Hilton Shillim’s best barbeques. The majestic three-month old 34-acre property in Lonavla (near Mumbai) was the primary destination in a road trip organised by Google Maps (one among many promotional programmes), as the company prepares to launch their latest smartphone, Pixel 2 (the first Pixel has since been discontinued).
Boarding at Bandra
We were first put up at Taj Lands End, Bandra, a five-star hotel overlooking the Arabian Sea. A short presentation followed in the morning after our first night there, where Anal explained to us the “exciting new” features that he and his team have introduced into Maps, some especially for India. In fact, Google is trying to make Maps more of an all-purpose app for travellers, one would think.
Now equipped with features that allow it to track MTC buses (they source data from the local transport authorities), compare fares and book cabs of your choice, it comprehensively shows all the train routes and roads plus traffic status within any chosen area on the map, locate fuel bunks, restaurants or any other place along one particular route.
The best part is that Maps can now direct us across multiple destinations using a multi-stop feature (one that pleasantly surprised many of us). Not to forget the new home screen of the app, designed for Indian users, with insta-buttons for Directions, Restaurants, Search Nearby and switching between different modes (including train routes and offline).
Enough has been said about Mumbai rains, but on that day, when we started from Taj Bandra, thankfully, the skies were clear, the climate was moderately hot, and traffic was surprisingly bearable. As our convoy of Innovas zipped past the Thursday morning traffic on the highway, our group, led by Anal and Marco D’Souza, Communications Manager, B2C, Google India, joined another Google Allo group to keep in touch on the way. Later we realised how that was useful for placing food orders in advance too! The menu from Royal Rasoi, our lunch spot for the day, was shared on the group, and all of us shared our choices.
Along the way, we stopped by at places like Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation and Sunil’s Celebrity Wax Museum, where we took pictures that would be later submitted in a photography competition. From searching for vada pav destinations with the help of Google Assistant (equivalent to Siri) to refreshing our knowledge about Mumbai via a quiz (on Allo, with help from the integrated Google Assistant, I must admit), we did enough to keep ourselves occupied until the beautiful hills of Lonavla came in sight. A sharp change in the weather followed, and in no time, it was pouring.
Thankfully, the rains stopped before we reached the next designated stop — an obscure ceramics outlet called Pradeep Crockery Ceramics Shop. Earlier, one wouldn’t have been able to locate it on Google Maps. But now, thanks to us adding it using the Local Guides feature, it is a registered place on Maps, complete with photos taken by us (although not as aesthetic as we had desired).
“The Local Guides feature helps one add places like these, allowing you to submit all relevant information about it. Once done, it is approved by Google and registered on Maps. However, this is not applicable for private homes,” informs Anal. Those not familiar with this feature will be pleased to know that there are also community meet-ups conducted by Local Guides in various places. “It is a big movement,” informs Anal.
Not lost in translation
Naturally, when you enter a luxurious property like Hilton Shillim, top-class hospitality is guaranteed. Be it the extraordinary setting amidst the hills or their fleet of Tata Nano cars used to ferry guests from the reception to their respective rooms, the hotel seamlessly blends technology and luxury. Here, Anal engages us in an exercise on Google Translate, an application that has come a long way from being
just a translator.
To find out how efficient the app has become, we decided to test one of its most popular features in the last few months — Live Translate. It allows you to point your smartphone camera at any kind of text written or printed anywhere (they had arranged for placards with Japanese text instead) and translate it to the desired language instantly. We decided to point one of our phones at the screen of a DSLR camera pointed at one of the placards, and to our delight the text was still getting converted to English, with no changes in font or background, regardless of how many lenses existed between the phone and the text.
As we spent our last meal of the day having an intense chat over dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Terrazzo, I understood what Anal meant right at the start — how Google is much more than a mere ‘Search’ engine.
The writer was in Mumbai by invitation from Google India. Details: play.google.com