No matter how many languages a traveler masters, there are plenty of moments during journeys in different parts of the world when a local language skill is desperately needed. Translation applications on a phone can help if both the traveler and the local have enough patience. The closer to natural interaction the translation tool is, the better the communication will be. Google promises that its new headphones – Pixel Buds – will translate your speech to a local language and local speech to your language on the fly.
The concept behind the Google Pixel Buds is brilliant. You only need the Google Pixel or Pixel 2 smartphone and the new wireless headset. If you are in Salzburg, Austria and want to communicate in German, wearing the Pixel Buds, you can speak English, and the smartphone will translate (with a little help from Google cloud services) your speech to German. The person whom you are talking to, can hear German speech from the phone’s loudspeaker.
It works the other way around as well. The Austrian person speaks German which is picked up by the microphone, translated to English by Google cloud services, and you can hear the English speech via the Pixel Buds.
The translator can interpret 40 languages that are all listed here.
This translation concept, of course, was invented years ago by Douglas Adams whose hitchhikers had translator fish in their ears so they could understand and communicate with creatures from other galaxies.
Google’s translator concept maybe brilliant, but the reality is that the product doesn’t yet work smoothly enough for the technology to be usable in normal interaction. Skift had an opportunity to test the Pixel Buds translation feature, and the test crew wasn’t happy with the product.
According to the testers, the translation itself works pretty well. It is possible to let the translator manage typical situations during travels, like encounters at shops, restaurants, or when you have to ask directions. The translator is activated by touching and holding the right earbud and saying “Google, help me speak German” (for instance).
The test crew didn’t like the fact that both the phone and the headset must be used during a translated conversation. That requirement made anything close to normal interaction impossible.
Even if Google didn’t manage to make universal translation for travelers perfect just now, the Pixel Buds translator can be a start for something that works smoothly in the near future.
In addition to the translation, the Pixel Buds have other functions as described in Google’s blog post.
If you want to use the Pixel Buds Translator, you will need:
Pixel or Pixel 2 smartphone.
The up-to-date version of the Google Translate app.
The Google app (version 7.14 or higher)