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Google and Levi’s have teamed up to release a smart jacket nobody needs, China’s decided to completely block WhatsApp, Netflix is trying to bring free in-flight Wi-fi to the masses, and Baidu is launching a push-button translation gadget.
All in this month’s edition of Travel Tech News!
Google and Levi’s Release (Not So) Smart Denim Jacket
Around two years ago, Google and Levi’s announced a partnership to work on smart clothing. It sounded interesting, if a little weird, but after an initial flurry of publicity, the tech press (and everyone else) forgot all about it.
The companies apparently didn’t, however, and this week they announced their first product, with a name only a committee could love. The “Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket with Jacquard by Google” weaves a special conductive fabric into a normal-looking denim jacket, that lets wearers do a few mildly-interesting things.
Using a small Bluetooth tag, the jacket pairs with your smartphone, which sits in a special inside pocket. After that, you can swipe and tap the left cuff to control various features of your phone, including music and navigation.
It’s a cool technology, but at $350 for a jacket you can only wash ten times before the so-called smarts stop working, it really looks like a solution in search of a problem… a problem that only exists during cooler weather, at that. Still, if you can’t live without your smart jacket, it’ll be available from today.
China Has Fully Blocked WhatsApp
Hot on the heels of China’s crackdown on VPNs that we mentioned a couple of months ago, there are now new restrictions on WhatsApp within the country.
Users of the popular messaging service generally haven’t been able to use the app’s video or voice calling services since July, but could still send and receive text messages. That all changed last week, when government started blocking text conversations as well.
Why? By limiting or blocking encrypted services like WhatsApp, the government pushes users towards the popular — and easily monitored — WeChat app instead. Offering the same features, WeChat has close ties to the Chinese authorities.
For now, you can get around the WhatsApp ban in China by using a VPN, although you’ll need to have downloaded and set it up before arriving. If the authorities manage to shut down unauthorised (ie, useful) VPNs by early next year as intended, though, it’ll definitely become more difficult.
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Netflix Plans to Make In-flight Wi-fi Better for Everyone
You wouldn’t necessarily expect Netflix to be improving in-flight Wi-fi, but according to the company, that’s exactly what it’ll be doing from next year.
After partnering with a few airlines since 2015, Netflix has amassed plenty of data on where the bottlenecks are when it comes to Wi-fi in the sky. From next year, it’ll be providing those insights to many other carriers, which in turn should allow passengers to enjoy less buffering and slowdowns in video playback, and airlines to use less of that expensive bandwidth.
The end game, as far as Netflix is concerned, is for airlines to be able to offer free Wi-fi to their passengers, and then use (or sign up for) the company’s streaming service to view a far higher range of video content than on any in-flight entertainment system.
Will it happen? Maybe, maybe not — we’ll start finding out in 2018!
Baidu to Release Translation Gadget for China, Japan
While Google Translate works remarkably well for a free translation app, it has its limitations. It’s great for translating menus, signs, and other written text, but using it to decipher speech is a different story.
When you’re trying to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak your language, fiddling around with unlocking your phone, loading the app, finding the right part of it, and starting a two-way conversation, takes what can feel like forever. By the time you’ve got it working, frustration has already well and truly set in.
Baidu hopes to change that, with a dedicated gadget that’ll be a real-time, two-way offline translator, a portable hotspot in 80 countries, and a battery for your other gadgets. It’ll start translating at the click of a button, listening in one language, then repeating immediately in another.
Initially it’ll translate from Chinese to English and back, with the option to both buy and (more usefully for most travelers) rent the device as needed. The company plans to extend coverage to Japan next year.
Prices and detailed specifications aren’t yet available.