Google Goggles helps you explore the world with your phone

Ever needed a quick translation of a foreign menu? Wanted to identify an unknown landmark? A new app called Google Goggles offers mobile users highly useful way to decipher the world around us using the camera on your mobile phone. This new service for Android users makes it remarkably simple to find quick translations of foreign languages, identify landmarks or even pick a bottle of wine, all rolled into one.

To use Google Goggles, all you need to do is launch the app and take a photo using your phone’s camera. See a word on the menu in Paris that you don’t recognize? Skip the guidebook and send a picture. You’ll be given a translation right on your phone. Or maybe you’re walking around and want to know more about a building or landmark. Send a photo of it and you’ll be delivered an explanation. It’s a new way of searching the world visually, tapping into Google’s vast database and the increasing power of mobile devices. Much like augmented reality and location services, mobile devices now allow travelers the ability to make the real world ‘clickable’ – almost as if you were surfing the web.

Although Google Goggles is a tremendous leap forward for travelers, it’s still not universal to all mobile phone users. To download the app, you have to be an owner of one of Google’s compatible Android devices (sorry iPhone owners) like the Nexus One or Droid running version 1.6 or above. If that’s you, you can find Google Goggles by searching and downloading it from the Android Marketplace. The recognition software is also not perfect. The technology is still in its infancy so don’t expect every image you send in to be recognized. Still, the concept of Google Goggles is exciting one for travelers. For anyone with a mobile phone, a whole new range of services is on the horizon.

Augmented reality: a traveler’s dream?

Gadling has previously investigated how mobile devices are changing the way we travel, whether it’s helping us navigate public transit, letting you make cheap phone calls abroad or showing us location-based maps of nearby restaurants, hotels and businesses. Now, an emerging mobile phone technology called augmented reality looks ready to bring this mobile experience to the “next level.”

It works like this: you start up an application on your phone using a built-in accelerometer, GPS and camera. As the application scans the world around you, it recognizes what you see, providing images, web links and information depending on where and what you’re looking at. Think of it almost like the real world was “clickable.” You could be walking down the street, pass by a restaurant, and have a link pop-up with a menu and weekly specials. Or in the case of augmented reality applications like acrossair on the iPhone (shown above) it can help you figure out the location of the nearest subway or metro stop. Other applications, like Wikitude and the Dutch service Layar let you browse directories of ATM’s, bars and hotels around you.

As with any cool new technology, there’s sometimes a catch. At this point, augmented reality apps like acrossair, Layar and Wikitude are only available to users abroad in Europe, although the companies are all promising a launch for U.S. users later this year. You’ll also need to have a supported phone – in this case either a device with Android or an iPhone 3GS to take advantage. Still, the coming of augmented reality offers a bright view of our travel future. Imagine taking a trip where we were free of our guidebooks, able to have information on transit, shopping, eating and sleeping at our fingertips when we wanted it and hidden from view when we didn’t. It’s a concept that is rapidly approaching reality, though still working out some kinks – don’t throw out that map just yet.