Smartphones have transformed the way we travel. Contextual services like Google Now and the substantial assortment of Android travel apps make your device an indispensable tool for planning, organizing, and discovering places both popular and little-known.
Android Wear improves your trip and helps you with the often excessive number of details that come with planning one. Of course, you get the same alerts you get on your phone: flight reminders, nearby places to check out, and hotel price drops. Since they come to your watch, your travel partner doesn’t get irritated that yet again that you’ve whipped out your phone. If you do it right, you’ll actually use less technology during your travel and spend more time looking around.
But arriving at such travel bliss takes some work on your part. You’ll need to ensure your Google account is optimized to mine the right travel details, and of course you’ll want the proper apps.
Here’s how I get my Moto 360 ready to get a better experience out of each trip.
Google Maps moves to your wrist
One of the best new features of Android Wear 5.1.1, which has finally hit all watches, is native Google Maps. Before you think, “Why would I want maps on my watch when I can get it on a bigger screen on my phone?” consider a few scenarios.
First, if you’re just trying to find out if you’re a street or two away from where you should be, it might be quicker to just swipe once to the right on your watch face and launch Maps (Android Wear 5.1 also significantly improves the accessibility and launch time of apps).
Additionally, Google has incorporated the discovery function of Google Maps into the Android Wear app. When you tap the pin icon, you get a scrollable list of nearby places to check out. So when you wonder, “What’s around here?” when you want to grab a bite to eat, your watch may be a quick way to discover something new.
Field Trip, Foursquare, help you discover the road less traveled
Discovery is the best thing about tech’s impact on travel. This is where a smartwatch surpasses what is possible with just a phone. The watch can alert you to places that you might otherwise not have considered in your pre-planning.
As an example, during a recent trip to San Francisco Foursquare buzzed my watch with a suggestion to check out John’s Grill, a restaurant made famous by the classic film The Maltese Falcon. Because I was nearby and it was evening time, I decided to make this the spot for dinner with my wife that night.
Field Trip works similarly, though it’s more focused on historical points of interest or other unusual findings.
Travel help moves to the smaller screen
No one wants to conduct a full-blown hotel or flight search from a watch screen. But where Android Wear excels is glanceable information, because you can check an alert and dismiss it without unlocking your phone. When it comes to travel research, there are several circumstances when this is valuable.
Hotel Tonight has implemented this type of functionality rather well. The app is essential for last minute trips, because it sorts through hotels at your destination and offers availabilities sorted by price and luxury. You’re able to then set price alerts if you want to find out if prices drop. Those alerts come right to your watch, with easy buttons for booking the room or exploring alternatives.
Priceline also wants to compete in this space. The Priceline Wear app promises to use your phone’s geofencing capabilities not to look for hip destinations, but rather for travel necessities like pharmacies and convenience stores. The idea is that when you inevitably forget a razor or toothpaste, you’ll only be one ping away on your watch from finding out where to get it.
It also has a dedicated app on your watch that serves as a portal to launch a hotel search. That’s the only feature I was able to try, as I wasn’t pinged for any necessities after spending several days with the app on my watch. You may be better served by visiting a large city to see what Priceline may surprise you with.
Never count out Google Now
Finally, the king of travel organization remains Google Now. Just make sure that all your reservations go into your Gmail and you’ve flipped on Google Now’s capabilities to look for pertinent details.
Some airlines even have built Wear integration that will put a barcode on your watch that serves as your boarding pass. You’ll also see gate information and get updates about any departure changes. Google Now will automatically read this information from your Gmail if you booked through United. The apps for American Airlines, KLM, and Delta will push these details to your watch from their Android apps.
Google does plenty more, like weather, restaurant reservations, and keeping tabs on your sports teams in case you’re away from a TV during your travels.
Keep in mind that Android Wear is rather new as a platform, so the future should bring more watch integration from large apps and stealth newcomers. And Google is always building up its own service, with a promise of deeper connections to your apps and services with Google Now On Tap, which launches with Android M. It’s this type of mind-reading context that can add the right kind of surprises to your next adventure.