Google Field Trip offers quirky tips about surroundings

The smartphone app points out deals, history

Google's new Field Trip smartphone application offers users facts, photos and deals within their immediate proximity. The app is a free download from the Google Play store and is coming to iOS and international users soon.

Google hosted Field Trip Day in cities across the U.S. Saturday and I toured Boston's historic North End neighborhood with phone in hand. Watch my exploration and see the app in a video on YouTube.

"Field Trip provides contextual awareness," said Archit Bhargava, a product manager with Google. "You could learn of historical facts as you're walking or a restaurant or hidden gem."

Users can select among categories that pique their interests including architecture, historic places and events, lifestyle, offers and deals, and others. Once the categories were chosen, I selected how and how often I wanted to be alerted. "Explore" mode offers frequent alerts about the area, while "Feeling Lucky" prompts you occasionally. You can also turn the alerts off completely.

The information in the app is curated from a variety of publishers, which Google has geotagged.

Field Trip was accurate and reliable. For example, when it alerted me about a statue of colonial hero Paul Revere, I was only a short distance from it. Later on the app chimed and announced Old North Church where, in 1775, the signal lanterns of Paul Revere were displayed alerting colonists that the British were coming.

Bhargava sees Field Trip as a step towards ubiquitous computing.

"Our goal is to reach a stage of ubiquitous computing, which is basically allowing people to have contextual awareness wherever they go," he said.

Bhargava said that Field Trip will often alert users of quirky facts near them. "Field Trip told me that beneath my home in San Francisco there are sunken ships that sailed there for the gold rush."

A unique, freak accident in Boston also made it into the app. While walking near the water in Boston's North End, my phone chimed and alerted me that this was the site of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919. A container holding 2.3 million gallons of the sticky liquid burst open and flooded the area, killing 21 people.

The app isn't perfect, though. I had some trouble loading images while I was exploring. It also seems geared toward history buffs, but if Google expanded its categories, it would likely appeal to a wider audience.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at Nick_Barber@idg.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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