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Google Opts for New Sensitivity Setting

Do you have problems with your Google Home waking up too often, or maybe not enough? Good news for those who answered yes. Google recently added a new setting to the Google Home App. Now you can adjust the sensitivity of the wake work, typically “Hey Google,” for Google Assistant. According to The Verge, the goal of the option is to “increase or reduce the sensitivity with which Google Assistant devices pick up the command ‘Hey Google.’” 

The update seems a bit strange to me, though. Why would Google give an option for users to adjust the sensitivity? Why wouldn’t Google tweak this setting themselves instead?

Google’s New Setting

Before getting into the why, let’s first take a look at the setting itself.

Google has been rolling out the update slowly to everyone, so you may not have the feature yet. Luckily, I got it a few days ago. If you want to see if you have the update, look for the options in the Google Home App. Here’s how you find it:

  1. Open the Google Home App
  2. Tap on your Google Home
  3. Tap the Gear Icon in the top right corner
  4. Scroll down to the bottom

Here’s what it looks like on iOS:

Google Home Settings Screenshot
Google Home Settings Screenshot

When you tap on “Hey Google” sensitivity, you’re lead to even more interesting info, including a slider to change the sensitivity:

Google Home Sensitivity Options
Google Home Sensitivity Options

The slider itself is pretty simple. Google gives us three settings: least sensitive, default, or most sensitive. The “Learn more” button goes to this support page

How Does It Work?

Being an engineer, I always find myself wondering how this works. My guess is Google now gives users three different Wake Word Detection Systems to choose from. Depending on what setting you use in the slider, your Google Home will use a different Wake Word Detector, where each has a history of waking up more or less.

Why Does This Setting Even Exist?

It’s really odd to me that this setting exists. My only guess is Google gets complaints from some users that think Google Home doesn’t understand them, and other users who think Google Home interrupts them too often. So maybe Google is in a tough spot here. If they change the default Wake Word Detector, it will add people from one side, while annoying people from the other side.

By adding this option, users on both ends can adjust the sensitivity to their liking, while letting Google keep the default Wake Word Detector in place for the mass majority of users. But I’m not entirely convinced pushing this complexity onto users is the right move.

Is It Worth The Development Cost?

Adding this setting does feel like a lot of work for Google with little benefit for them. Updating one Wake Word Detector on the device is pretty tough when you are talking about millions of devices. But creating a system where users can change the Wake Word Detector–and giving them a list of three to choose from at that–makes it even harder. This also means Google needs to update all three of their detectors now, too, not just the one.

I’m really curious to see some data behind this change and to see if users find this helpful. So, if you’re a fan, let me know in the comments below! We’ll also see if other Voice Assistants, like Alexa and Siri, adopt this strategy, as well.

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