Earlier this week, the Google Trips app for Android and iOS was launched, promising to save hapless travellers from situations like finding a goat instead of accommodation where you expected your hotel to be.
Other than being a “Hilton man” (as Aaron puts it), I am also a bit of a Google fan, so I was quite eager to see what travel assistance our Google overlords have to offer those of us who have willingly surrendered our data in exchange for free email (i.e. Gmail users).
I’ll let the official Google blog do the honours of listing all its advertised features, and will zoom straight to my general impressions of the app.
- Convenience – Google’s social contract with users is that we offer it our personal data so it can deliver more targeted ads to us, while it delivers us products and services that make our lives… better? This is where Google manages to deliver rather well – with access to my various reservation confirmation emails, Google Trips was automatically pre-populated with my trips (upcoming as well as past) when I launched it for the very first time!
- Simple itinerary planning – I found the “Things to do” section pretty useful. There’s even a targeted ‘For you’ section that presumably makes use of your email and search history to surface places you might be interested in – Tsukiji Market appeared as the first item for me while looking at suggestions for my recent Tokyo trip, presumably because I’d searched for it while planning previously. The ‘Day Plans’ section also offers suggested itineraries with map locations, while the Food & Drinks section is, of course, indispensable to the average Singaporean traveller.
- Google Maps integration – I particularly like the fact that places saved from within Google Trips are also starred in Maps, allowing for easy navigation later.
- Extensive information – essentials such as transport (even on info such as bike rentals) and tipping culture are all covered, easily accessible within the app.
- Offline access – the ability to pre-download and later access information when offline is a useful one, even though I usually get data roaming / local SIMs these days.
- Limited manual entry – the app is great when it works, but when it doesn’t… there’s nothing much you can do about it. I noticed that for some of my trips, there was some missing information – after fiddling for some time with the app, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only edits you can make are to the trip name, destinations and dates. That suffices for itinerary planning, but I was hoping that it could also be used as a quick reference for my reservation details so I can refer to things like flight details as required. The ability to key in details manually would help with that.
- Troublesome manual entry – from what I understand, Google Trips evolved from the Trip Bundles feature within Inbox by Google – since they use the same data set, you can add/remove associated trip-related emails by accessing inbox.google.com, which is rather troublesome and hardly an ideal solution. What’s more, even after adding the correct relevant email, Google sometimes fails to recognise information, like a shared itinerary from SIA (I suspect the formatting differs from a typical booking).
- No Google Flights integration – I find Google Flights to be an awesome resource for searching through airfares and even tracking prices. I think it’s a bit of a missed opportunity that Google Trips doesn’t integrate some of this functionality to allow users to look for cheap flights while building their itineraries!
- Errors in automatic data recognition – I have one particular trip scheduled for next year where the final hotel stay was incorrectly listed first. Puzzled, I took a look and realised that Google had somehow registered it as a 2016 stay, even though the reservation email clearly states that it is for 2017! I’m rather puzzled by this anomaly.
- Inability to amend details – Limited data entry capability is bad, but when there’s no way to correct errors, I think it’s turned ugly. This is not limited to errors – sometimes, reservation details simply change (e.g. change in flight timings). Google sometimes captures and updates this data, but not always. Where it reflects outdated reservation information, there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to correct it.
All in all, the app feels more like a beta version than an actual polished product (i.e. typical Google). It has its strengths – I like being able to easily generate itineraries – but its reliance on algorithms to extract reservation information can be really annoying.
If you’re at all concerned about accuracy of reservation details, you might be better off using alternatives like TripIt or WorldMate instead. On the other hand, I fully expect Google to eventually get its act together, so if you’re feeling up to being an early adopter, do feel free to give it a whirl!