Google/Apple/Amazon users want to re-name their smart assistants
- Google, Apple and Amazon all have assistant devices that respond using a ‘launch phrase’
- ‘Hey Google’, ‘Hey Siri’ and ‘Hey Alexa’ are common phrases used to activate these digital assistants
- Internet users – especially those with multiple devices - are calling for a way to change how you address your Amazon Echo, Apple Homepod or Google Assistant
Most users of a digital assistant will be aware of just how confused these devices can get.
Apple Homepods, Google Home devices and Amazon’s Alexa speakers all boast smart, voice-activated functions – such as being able to turn the lights on and off, play specific music playlists or list out calendar entries. But all require a ‘launch phrase’ to do so.
The launch phrase – which is distinct to each company (“Hey Google” / “Hi Alexa”) – is important, as it is supposed to let the speaker know when you are talking to it, and not talking to another human being.
However, after a few years of these devices now on shelves – and with more than 100 million smart speakers sold in 2018 – users are starting to ask one question, “is this the best it can get?”
Most people have been in a situation where their smart assistant will activate all by itself. Often mentioning that it’s confused, or providing you with arbitrary information no one asked for. The other evening, one Esquire staffer’s Alexa piped up in the middle of the night and then preceded to play creepy violin music (indeed, the digital director might never recover).
Part of that comes down to simple confusion; the device hears something that matches to a similar frequency of its launch phrase and a command, then it seeks to follow that command. It’s mildly annoying for now, and typically reserved to smart speakers.
But with manufactures like Google and Apple baking voice-activation functionality into its smartphones, the problems begin to multiply.
During a recent demonstration of Google’s Virtual Assistant in Dubai, journalists were provided sample Android devices to explore a Google-designed apartment. When one journalist piped up with, “Hey Google” every other device in the same proximity would also pipe up. In other words, Google’s smart assistant didn’t know who was asking it to do something.
Throw in multiple people and several smart speakers in various rooms of a standard home, and these issues go from mildly annoying to incredibly frustrating.
Of course, manufacturers are getting better at dealing with these sorts of issues. Google, for example, now includes a distance algorithm that seeks to figure out whether or not you’re talking to the speaker in your living room or the one in the bathroom. It is still rather clunky.
But we have a better idea. Why not allow us to rename our devices, so us humans can pick and choose which virtual assistant we need to give us a hand?
Jarvis could handle the kitchen “Hey Jarvis, set an egg timer for two minutes”. HAL 9000 would handle the living room, “HAL, play the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey”. While C3PO could look after the bathroom, “Hey C3PO, order some more toilet roll”.
It’s a pretty simple solution to what must be a huge logistical problem from a software side of things, but one that would solve about 90% of these frustrating issues.
“Hey Google, you’re welcome”