Google’s event yesterday had an announcement for just about everyone, whether you’re a smartphone enthusiast or maybe just looking for an inexpensive (or really expensive) smart speaker. But after the announcements of everything we were expecting to see, Google had a few last minute accessory announcements that, for me, ended up making the event a pleasant surprise.
Over the past decade, there have been a number of times where I’ve thought to myself, “We are truly living in the future.” That phrase always sounded weird to me because umm, of course we’re living in the future. In a few seconds from now I’ll be living in the future. Yet, whenever I see an impressive gadget that’s what I end up thinking, and it’s probably because this is exactly the kind of thing I would expect to see in a sci-fi movie placed 100 years in the future, not at any point in my lifetime.
The past few years have really opened my eyes to how rapidly technology is advancing, which is why I shouldn’t have been as surprised or amazed as I was yesterday when Google revealed their new Pixel Buds headset.
Actually, when they first started talking about it, I figured it would just be a competitor for Apple AirPods, which made sense – AirPods are more successful than I would have ever predicted. Still, looking at Pixel Buds, I wasn’t sure that Google would have the same success. Although this is purely speculation, I’m pretty sure a big reason AirPods ended up as successful as they are isn’t because Apple took away the 3.5mm headphone jack; it’s because, fascinatingly, AirPods aren’t connected by a wire. Even if you just wanted to use one, you could. It’s a truely wireless experience. Pixel Buds, on the other hand, are connected by a wire that rests on the nape of the neck, which a lot of Bluetooth headsets already have and, quite frankly, have the coolness factor equal to wearing a lanyard on your glasses (and as somebody who wears glasses, I can attest that lanyards are functionally wonderful, but I feel like a huge dork when I have to wear them).
So, aside from having the Google brand attached to it, what makes Pixel Buds any different from what we’ve already seen? From my perspective, it’s the potential that comes with having Google Translate baked in to the device.
I’ve always wanted to travel the world, but as of right now the opportunities are limited. I know a little bit of Spanish, a little bit of French, and a little bit of German. If I hadn’t been so wishy-washy in which language I wanted to learn, I’m sure I could have been fluent in one of them by now, but I’m not. Even if I had been dedicated enough to stick with one, the ability to travel to countries that have that native language would have only increased by a handful. Between 195 countries and 7,099 known spoken languages (of which 23 make up over 50% of the world’s population) that’s a lot of ground to cover if you’re interested in more than just a few countries with varied languages.
Of course, there have always been ways around that. At least enough to scrape by. Carrying around translation books, hiring a personal interpreter, and the riskiest option – hoping that somebody understands your native language just enough to get the gist of what you’re saying – are all methods that people have used to overcome language barriers. But these methods are often unreliable or expensive. Having a 24/7 translator that has a one-time cost and only needs a break every once in a while to recharge (in a convenient pocket-sized charging case, no less) sounds like a much better option to me, and that’s kind of what you get with Google Translate built-in to Pixel Buds.
Now, it’s much more complicated than that now. You’re not just going to have instantaneous and seamless conversations between two people speaking two different languages; at best, expect flubbed words, troubles regarding context, and poorly-worded phrases (“Hello! Excuse me? Apple monkey kitchen carburetor?”) but to me it’s cool that this is even a thing now. It feels like a monumental step. While it’s still a good idea to take the time to get familiar with new languages, and even become fluent in one, the opportunities to visit another country don’t seem as limited anymore. In another 10 or 20 years, I could see this being a reliable and regularly used feature.
Of course, the Pixel Buds do much more than just translate. They work as a regular Bluetooth headset and also as a Google Assistant wearable meant for your ears only, but the translate feature is ultimately the one that impressed me the most.