I installed Field Trip just as soon as I read it had finally been made available outside the U.S and U.K where it had been incubating for some time and spent the last couple weeks sampling what it had to offer. However, after just this short time, I have decided to uninstall it and wait a few months before giving it another try.

Poor accessibility

Like so many of the applications released during Google I/O 2013, Field Trip is plagued with unlabelled buttons, even down to the overflow (a.k.a "More options") button, giving a far from welcoming first impression. The actual cards and the information they contain are accessible, but the buttons to share, favourite and dismiss them are not, making it difficult to manage them on the go, when they would be at their most useful. I also encountered some strange TTS glitches, possibly due to a conflict between Field Trip's own spoken announcements and TalkBack's effort to read them out loud. The over all effect was that of an app which is minimally accessible but defective enough to become non-trivial to use.

Information before you know you need it?

Field Trip doesn't want to be just another POI (point of interest) application, but instead would like to become your smart traveling companion, whether in a foreign country or in your hometown, coming up with relevant suggestions and pieces of information at the right time. As such, it seems to try rather strenuously to come up with pleasing suggestions based on factors which are not always clear to the user. The practical upshot, though, is that you can't just walk out the door with Field Trip set to "Explore mode", its most verbose setting, and expect it to start spewing a card every time you walk by one of its POIs. Doing so and purposely walking by points I knew were in its database, I could not get it to notify me at all. On the other hand, Field Trip once flawlessly alerted me to the presence of an ice cream parlour as I walked by it on a hot Friday afternoon, though on a lower verbosity setting. While such second guessing of a user's wishes is definitely fun and occasionally useful, its potential as navigational or augmented reality aid seems to me to be fairly limited.

Dearth of points and few categories

Google made much of the effort which they put into building a database of relevant points with an emphasis on historical and geographical landmarks, so I was just as excited at the prospect of learning about the city in which I live as I was by the possibility for easy point location. Unfortunately, while the points database might be quite extensive in the U.S and U.K, its state seems to be still nascent in recently added countries. Scrolling through the list of nearby POIs, I could only see a few basic categories, such as eateries, malls and so on. What's more, apart from restaurants, most of those points were already well known to me; while they would no doubt be of interest to tourists unfamiliar with the area, they are unlikely to be useful to most long-term residents. The inability to sort points by category also made it somewhat tedious to review them for possible exploration.

Battery drain

By far the biggest problem with Field Trip, however, is its significant drain on battery as it attempts to keep track of current location and reports back to Google for suggestions. After installing the app, I saw my Galaxy S II's battery life take a noticeable hit. Worse still, that hit was inconsistent, so that some days it would be minimal while others would see Field Trip making the top five of battery-hungry apps. In theory, it would be possible to disable Field Trip when static and re-enable it when stepping outside, but it seems to me this defeats the purpose of a "smart" application, which one should be able to just "set and forget". In comparison, Google Now, which achieves significantly more than Field Trip and needs to perform the same kind of regular checks, still seems to be far more parsimonious with resources.

Conclusion

Though it may make us uncomfortable at times, Google's new push to provide information just-in-time is undeniably useful, and the concept behind Field Trip has obvious potential, far beyond that of e-tourism. In its current state, however, at least outside its spawning ground, it is still of very limited use. Once the point database has been expanded, the recommendation algorithm optimised, the battery drain issue resolved and the accessibility shortcomings addressed, I will happily consider revisiting this app.