"OK Google, take me to Taipei."
And so it was that I came to be standing in a thunderstorm in the Taiwanese capital on Tuesday lunchtime. Happily, there happened to be a stall selling umbrellas and, even though I can't speak Chinese (traditional) nor the vendor English (British), my Android did the talking and I managed to pick one up for T$150. That's £3, OG added, helpfully.
OK, so Google hasn't quite managed to teleport its users across eight time zones in the swipe of a finger. I was in a Googlerised version of Taipei, in a disused postal sorting office in the middle of London. I'd come to OK Google London to be shown all the nifty things my smartphone can help with when travelling, which includes using the Translate app in a two-way conversation to buy an umbrella, or take a photo of a shop sign to find out what the Chinese characters mean. If I'd done my research, I would have known, from the Google Now function, that there was a thunderstorm heading my way, simply by asking my phone: "Will I need an umbrella in Taipei today?" iPhone users will recognise this as their suave PA, Siri.
Because OK Google London is that kind of place, pushing a bookshop-front took me into the next scenario, which happened to be a film premiere. Here, the new Google Camera app proved just how fast technology is moving – my two-year-old HTC One was way out of date, and I had to borrow a Google Nexus 5 phone to explore the camera's capabilities. Essentially, it's as impressive as Apple's HDR iSight camera, allowing you to add filters, blur backgrounds and "Auto Awesome" your photos.
Next up was London – the Google version – where a jolly cyclist stopped Google's Philipp Beer to ask for directions. Using the Maps app, we were able to discover not only the best route to avoid real-time traffic jams and road works, but places to explore in a three-mile radius from our current location depending on the time of day. Helpfully, maps are available offline so you can download in advance to avoid roaming charges. Moreover, Google uses not only your own previous Google searches, but those of friends and family in your Google+ network (if you subscribe to it) to sprinkle your maps with recommendations, which is either an incomparable crowdsourcing facility that no other map service can currently offer (according to Googler Adrian Carter), or pretty terrifying (if you're me).
After a ride back to HQ on the Google Eurostar, I spoke to Geospatial Technologist Ed Parsons (aka "maps man") about his creations. Current limitations include not being able to access directions when browsing maps offline. However, he summed up the benefits by explaining that his children would "never have to fear the sensation of being lost". But surely, sometimes, that's the point. Even he had to concede that part of the magic of travelling is a sense of discovery and stumbling on the unknown. But, of course, Google will no doubt have thought about that too. Watch out for Auto Adventure, coming to a Play Store soon.Reuse content