It’s a widely acknowledged truth that smart speakers should just shut up. I don’t want to know when Siri/Alexa/Google locked my front door – I just asked it to do that and I expect it to. (We’ll put a pin in it that it not always do this). So Google’s announcement this week that it’s taking more steps to prevent its Google Assistant from babbling at you every time you send a command to a Nest smart speaker is a welcome one.
The assistant will stay silent even if you ask it to turn off the lights in the room you’re in, and send a soft ring to let you know it’s done. (You know, just in case TURNING THE LIGHTS OFF didn’t alert you to this.) However, he still enjoys a good conversation if you ask him to change the temperature on your thermostat, for example. “Okay, turn the AC in the living room to 76 degrees.”
The speaker emits a sound instead of starting a conversation when you ask it to control smart devices
This new change will, according to a community blog post from Google, will be rolled out in the coming weeks. It sounds the speaker instead of starting a conversation when you ask it to control smart devices including switches, plugs, fans, blinds, TVs and speakers.
However, this is still only for the room you and the speaker are in. So when I lie in bed at night and gently request my Nest Hub to turn off the living room lights, it will still respond loudly: “TURN LIVING OFF ROOM LIGHTS.” Sigh.
None of them cracked the nut of failure
Knowing when to be quiet is something every other smart speaker manufacturer figured out a while ago. As usual with the smart home, Google is lagging behind here. Both Apple’s HomePods and Amazon’s Echo devices can’t talk to you every time you ask them to control smart home devices, no matter what room it’s in. (Outside of that use case, though, all bets are off).
However, none of them cracked the nut of failure. (Back to that pin.) When something not work as expected, all the different voice assistants will reply with a whole manual of instructions on what could be wrong and how to fix it and/or give you a long list of everything it couldn’t. It’s annoying.
The solution is simple. So here’s my free product advice to Google, Amazon, and Apple: a nice chime when a command works (although I’m not sure that’s even strictly necessary) and a gentle buzz when it fails (think Family Feud), along with troubleshooting instructions sent to your smart display or smartphone screen for you to deal with – if you care.