Travel online, travel offline

Last week I was invited to the Google House in central London.

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The computing giant had taken over a grand Georgian townhouse on Fitzroy Square and enhanced it with all the sorts of Googly things you never knew you needed at home – a mini motorised mountain chair lift, artificial snow and trees, a ‘man den’, a bath full of KitKats and a giant tablet screen embedded in the kitchen wall.

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If that all sounds a bit Willy Wonka, it was (there were rose-scented macaroons, bite-sized scones, tiny Google-forks for tiny Google canapes and school milk bottles filled with a disconcertingly pale-yellow liquid labelled ‘drink me’), but there was a point.

Each of the curious installations accented a different aspect of Google’s capabilities. For instance, in the ski chalet room, we learnt how we could speak into our smartphone or tablet and get it to order a hot chocolate in German (if you don’t mind thrusting your device into a waiter’s face – talk to the hand) or find out how long it would take to get from Zurich airport to the Matterhorn, and just how high the Matterhorn is, and what the weather would be like when we got there, all by talking to the soothing Googlevoice inside our phone.

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There were options to set up your phone to tell you precisely how long it would take to get from point A to point B and whether there would be traffic en route, and which method of transport would be quickest (my phone is now hung up on with how long it’ll take me to get home – from work, from the pub, from the high street, from my front doorstep – 10 seconds!).

And then there was the social aspect – enhancing your holiday snaps to look all jolly (AutoAwesome!) in movie-form or merging a series of portraits to create the happiest, smile-iest shot.

The one I liked best was the reminder, which could apply to anything, but would be good for remembering all the things you need to take on holiday. Just tell your phone what you need – passport, tickets, visa, camera – and it’ll remind you on the date that you tell it to with a friendly buzz and a calender note. What it won’t remind you is to look up from your phone and take it all in, surely the most important aspect of the travel experience.

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