Google Pixel Buds: How well do they actually work?

Hello and welcome to "Jazz explains Language related Matters". Today we are discussing Google Pixel Buds.

If you have ever read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy by Douglas Adams or watched the film, you would probably remember the Babel fish. It is quoted to be “probably one of the oddest things in the universe” which allows the main characters to understand any language communication instantly.

Google representatives would have you believe that they have achieved this grand feat with the release of their new Google Pixel Buds. Not only does it boast many functionalities including, but not limited to, controlling music apps by means of a few taps to the earbud and also giving you access to Google Assistant, but also the ability to have what they call “real time translation” with you at all times.

"How do they do this?", you may ask.

Well, to explain, I’ll need to get you up to speed on a few other things first: Google Assistant is similar to Siri from Apple, Bixby from Samsung, Cortana from Windows and Alexa from Amazon. They work as a nexus program through which the user can interact with various other programs on their devices through artificial intelligence, or at least an experience that feels like AI, which recognises voice commands and instructions. For the purposes of this article, the Google Assistant application on the user’s mobile device allows them to interface with the Google Translate application on the same device.

What all of the above basically means is that the Pixel Buds do not have any translation software on them whatsoever, but rather, they still rely on the Google Translate system on your phone or tablet and, of course, your data connection to the internet.

Now, even though Google Translate has improved quite a lot in recent years, it still is a far cry from any professional rendering of translation.

Ok, I can already hear what you’re saying: “But Google Translate is free!” And to that I answer, sure it is, and it sure is a good product for on the spot emergency translation, but not for much more than that.

Picture this: you are in Thailand on an adventure of personal discovery.

You are at a street market and feeling adventurous. You point at something at random and the vendor prepares this item for your enjoyment. The aromas fill your nasal passages and it smells great. You pay for your food and you start wolfing it down. You feel like a true tourist. You loved whatever it was, but ten minutes later your stomach does not love you for being so adventurous, when it did not have an opportunity to tell you earlier that it would have preferred the Mcdonald’s Quarter Pounder instead of the mystery meat from the street.

Now as your tummy is singing the song of its people, you desperately grab for your phone. You half-smile as you remember that you have international connection, you pop your Google Pixel Buds in your ears and you tap it with all of your might, establishing a link to your Google Translate. “Can you tell me where is the nearest toilet is?”, you blurt out and point the phone awkwardly at the merchant. Google Translate forms the words you muttered into it and starts processing. You can feel the cogs in your stomach turn just as hard as the “buffering” icon on the phone when finally, the phone spews out a computer generated voice which asks the poor merchant where the closest toilet is in a tone of voice inappropriate for his status, and he feels offended but he points you in the right direction. It saved your butt, in more ways than one.

Now imagine you are working for a big company and you are the one to receive important delegates from an offshore company who wants to invest in the business you work for.

Your boss put you in charge of liaising with them because he saw you jamming to your music on your Google Pixel Buds earlier and, trying to save face, you told him about how amazing they are and how they are like having a “real time translator” with you at all times. Your boss is impressed at your wizardry and tells you about the investors from Hong Kong who will be arriving tomorrow. Now, knowing full well that you are not guaranteed an accurate translation, nor a rendition that would necessarily be in an appropriate register with Google Translate, you decide on rather calling a professional language practice agency to send you a professional interpreter with a background in business and economics.

What these scenarios are supposed to be telling you is that Google Pixel buds are cool, but they cannot replace the value that an actual interpreter would be able to give you. It is merely a gimmick to sell a pretty cool pair of headphones. I mean, to use Google Translate you don’t even need earphones, you just need a mobile device with a data connection. But if you want to have some fun with, in my opinion, one of the oddest wireless earphones in the universe, and you have the cash, feel free to buy some Pixel Buds, or the ones for Apple.

Copyright Language Matters 2018

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