Google Glass Field Trip App Is Amazing, Unless You're With Other People

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 23 2013 1:11 PM

Google Glass Field Trip App Is Amazing, Unless You're With Other People

FT-130823-Field trip app
Google's Field Trip app in action

Still from YouTube

This week, Google released its Field Trip app for Glass. As you stroll around a city, the app will feed you (or, in Google parlance, "surface") information about the buildings, businesses, and points of interest you pass along your route. Encounter a mysterious statue? Field Trip will tell you tell you who sculpted it and why. An intriguing old warehouse facade? You'll learn about the architect. New taco joint? Get a review. The content flows in from a slew of sources Google has chosen—ranging from hyperlocal blogs, to online cultural repositories, to Zagat guides.

Field Trip comes from the map-happy mind of John Hanke, the man behind Google Earth and Google Ocean. The app has been available for a year on Android and more recently on iOS, but from its conception it was always intended to integrate seamlessly with Glass. It's less useful to feel a buzz in your pocket and haul out your smartphone six times per block. With Glass, these info tidbits float subtly into view at the top of your vision—at which point you can ignore them and keep walking or ask for further details. You can also opt to have the text read aloud through the speaker that tucks behind your ear. The app knows if you've walked down a block before and will surface new factoids on repeat visits.

If I owned Glass, I could easily see myself using Field Trip as a tourist walking alone through a strange city. Maybe even during a solo exploration of my own neighborhood. It's akin to having a museum audio guide for the entire world. (And I love museum audio guides.) The app will only improve as Google adds more content, continues to shape the experience, and figures out which kinds of alerts people tend to interact with and which they ignore.

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But would I wear this if I were walking around with friends? Hmmm. There's of course a fundamental hurdle Glass needs to overcome, which is that people wearing those goggles look like chumps who've time-traveled from an exceedingly dorky future. (Perhaps the recent Vogue spread featuring Glass-clad fashion models will help on that score.)

But there's something else: It's not hard to imagine the constant stream of augmented reality yanking you out of, well, unaugmented reality—making it hard to keep up with real-world conversations going on around you. And there's the danger that you might become insufferable as you parrot every piece of insight. "Do you know who designed that park? Guess what year that tree was planted? Great gelato place coming up on the corner!" Give it a rest, Speed Levitch.

The below video trailer offers a decent sense of how Field Trip works. Note that the POV camera shots serve a dual purpose: We see all those useful Field Trip alerts our protagonist is getting, but we see much less of his face—and the Rec Specs steeze he’s flaunting as he tries to pitch woo at his date.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

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