When it comes to clever voice-controlled features, there’s not a whole lot separating the Google Nest and Amazon Echo these days. Both of these popular smart home gadgets are powered by a chatty AI assistant, which can read out the latest headlines and weather, control smart lightbulbs and thermostats in your house, tell cheesy jokes, check the traffic, answer general knowledge questions and order takeaways.
However, Google is rumoured to be working on a new feature for its line of Nest smart speakers that will really set it apart from its Amazon-branded counterparts. But we’re not sure everyone will be pleased with the new trick when it arrives.
Dubbed Quick Phrases, the new feature will let you drop the “Hey Google” or “OK, Google” wake phrase for some of the most common tasks. Unearthed by Google-centric blog 9To5Google, the feature is still being developed inside Google under the codename “Guacamole”. As such, it isn’t ready to turn on inside your Google Home app quite yet.
However, we do have an idea of what to expect. An early version of the Quick Phrases menu, published by 9To5Google, shows that Google Nest owners will be able to pick certain everyday tasks which can be triggered without going through the hassle of using the wake phrase. Examples include skipping songs, checking the weather, setting alarms, timers, and silencing ringing alarms.
So, rather than having to say “OK Google, turn off the living room lights” each time, you’ll be able to just bark: “Turn off the living room lights”.
A similar feature, which was introduced back in 2019, already exists for Google Nest smart speakers and smart displays to allow you to silence ringing alarms without needing to say a wake word. Quick Phrases dramatically expands this functionality to include a number of other common tasks.
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With Quick Phrases, once you’ve highlighted a specific command, Google will rely on Voice Match, which learns the unique characteristics of your voice, to ensure it’s only responding to you. That should stop false triggers – characters in movies asking about the weather, for example – from causing your Nest smart speaker to spring into action.
Wake phrases, like “Alexa” and “OK, Google”, are reassuring to those worried about bringing a device with a microphone array into rooms in their homes, including the bedroom. These phrases act like an On switch. The hands-free speaker will only begin keeping note of what you’re saying when it hears that phrase.
If your speaker mistakenly hears the wake phrase, you’re able to jump into the companion app and listen back to the recording to see where it went wrong. Amazon also offers the opportunity to correct it, so that it doesn’t happen again.
Taking away the vocal On switch – so you can just shout “set a timer for five minutes” across the kitchen to start the feature – could be a cause of concern some users. After all, it does mean the microphones inside your favourite smart speaker will be listening out for more than a single wake phrase… it will be listening for a number of different triggers.
Fortunately, it seems like Quick Phrases will be completely optional, although it does hint that Google is investigating moving away from the hassle of wake phrases in the future. Could we eventually discard this vocal On button altogether and speak to our smart home gadgets like our friends and family?
Of course, while this latest innovation is sure to cause anxiety with some users, others are likely to be overjoyed. Saying a wake phrase before your command can be a little clunky, especially for tasks – like checking the weather – that you do every day. It could also make the speakers more accessible for those who aren’t comfortable with technology, like older users, who currently struggle to formulate the command in the correct format.
Apple is a little ahead of the game in this instance. When summoning Siri with an Apple Watch, users only need to raise their wrist to their mouth and begin speaking an instruction. Apple says it uses AI to determine whether you’re making a request to Siri… or just chatting to someone else.