Google’s new headphones, which can translate 40 languages, are futuristic

Pixel Buds seem straight out of an HG Wells novel.

 |  4-minute read |   06-10-2017
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Slowly, but surely, tech giant Google is increasingly turning its focus towards hardware to counter the almost decade-old dominance that Apple has exerted over the market. The all-new Google Home speakers, the second generation Pixel smartphones and the Pixelbook all point towards the same.

However, in doing so, Google is not straying from its core strengths and as can be seen in the case of the Pixel Buds and the clips camera, the tech giant has created hardware tailored to make use of advancements in machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI).  

Announced at the end of the keynote event in San Francisco, the Pixel Buds – Google's entry into the wireless headphones segment – may look like a product destined to play catch up with the AirPods – Apple's much sought-after wireless in-ear headphones – but they are anything but that. 

Launched at $159, and available for sale starting November 22 in the US – Google hasn't specified a launch date for India yet – more than the two new smartphones, the Pixel Buds give us a peek into the future that Google wants to create using AI and machine learning. 

The Pixel Buds are designed to do a lot more than just help you listen to your favourite music, or answer calls on the go. Integrated with Google Assistant and the Android OS running on your "Made by Google" phone, the Pixel Buds can help you communicate with Google's AI assistant in never-before-seen ways. 

It can read out notifications, give you directions, alert you to calendar events or incoming messages – even read them to you if you can’t look at your phone – and if that's not all, the Pixel Buds can help you translate between languages in real time using Google Translate on your Pixel phone. 

pixel-buds-copy_100617020758.jpg[Source: CNET]

Explaining the feature in an official blog post, Adam Champy, Product Manager for Google Pixel Buds said, "Say you’re in Little Italy, and you want to order your pasta like a pro. All you have to do is hold down on the right earbud and say, 'Help me speak Italian.' As you talk, your Pixel phone’s speaker will play the translation in Italian out loud. When the waiter responds in Italian, you’ll hear the translation through your Pixel Buds."

The translation feature, for now, supports 40 different languages, with Hindi being one of them. 

The Pixel Buds also don't sport any physical buttons on them and all the interaction between the phone and the Pixel Buds is managed through gesture controls on the right earbud of the wireless headphones. 

The only drawbacks of the Pixel Buds, look to be its limited battery life – five hours of playback but come with a charging case which will give you a total of 24 hours of playback – and its limited support with only the new Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 phones. But expect these to be figured out in the wireless headphones that Google announces next year.

However, what needs to be focused on is how the Pixel Buds – the real-time translation feature in particular – is a leaf straight out of an HG Wells novel. More than bezel-less displays and fancy face recognition technology available on the iPhone X, this capability to translate language in real time is a feature that truly brings the future to us. 

With the Pixel Buds paired to the latest Google-branded smartphone, we finally have the power – or at least on paper – to go up to a complete stranger in a foreign land and hold a fluid conversation without elaborate hand gestures to put across our point. In a fast-moving, globalised economy, the implications of such a breakthrough could thus be of great benefit to many. 

There have been attempts at coming up with such technology in the past — with kickstarter projects, and, more recently, Microsoft's attempts at real-time translation with Skype. However, the truth is, all these attempts have failed in one way or the other. 

Skype's translation feature does translate audio but its translations fail when it comes down to the crucial metric of being truly real-time. The feature first records the audio and then translates it, leading to a delayed response. Additionally, it does not even provide the kind of vast array of language support that Google's offering provides. 

And as far as kickstarter projects go, they simply don't have the resources – troves of machine-learning data accumulated over the years – crucial to pulling off an ambitious project like this. 

But what's most impressive is the fact that Google has managed to pull this off without the need for a bulky computer, with just the Pixel Buds than can easily fit your back pocket when not being used. 

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Sushant Talwar Sushant Talwar @sushanttalwar

Tech journalist, DailyO

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