Google announces today two new features for Android phones: Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier. They are both designed as accessibility features to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Live Transcribe is an application that automatically transcribes speech in near real-time, allowing users to communicate in situations where they otherwise might not. The sound amplifier is designed for people with hearing loss. It allows you to change the sound settings to improve your hearing ability, much like a hearing aid app for your phone. Sound Amplifier was announced for the first time in May on Google I / O, but is finally available.
Both will be available preinstalled on Pixel 3 phones in the accessibility settings and also available through the Google Play Store for other phones. Live Transcribe is however available in limited beta and Sound Amplifier requires phones equipped with Android 9 Pie, which limits their availability.
Of the two, I was more impressed with Live Transcribe. When you open the application, she just starts writing what she means in a large, easy-to-read text. It works remarkably well, including adding punctuation and even understanding a certain context. The example that Google has shown us is that he was able to capitalize correctly the phrase "I'm buying a new jersey in New Jersey." Unfortunately, an internet connection is required to operate.
Although it's pretty simple, Live Transcribe has some subtle features that make it a little easier to use at the moment. A blue circle in the corner blinks slightly to indicate the ambient noise level, which allows you to see if you need to bring the microphone closer to the speaker for it to work. You can also press a small button to bring up a keyboard to type the answers, if necessary. Finally, if someone starts talking after a period of silence, Live Transcribe will vibrate the phone so you can watch it and see what is being said.
You can define a primary language and a secondary language by quickly switching between them. However, in my tests, Live Transcribe was able to correctly transcribe short sentences into another language without changing language. It supports up to 70 different major languages. It is relatively easy to switch between dark and light themes and change the size of the text. In Android, you can create an accessibility button that appears in the main button bar, allowing quick access to settings and applications such as Live Transcribe.
Google claims that the simplicity and usability of the use was a major goal and one of the reasons why it chose not to include the option of saving transcripts. I imagine that privacy concerns may have also been taken into account. Google noted that in addition to saving transcripts, it did not store audio or transcripts on its servers, nor did it use that data to improve its algorithms.
The other feature introduced by Google is called sound amplifier. In Accessibility Settings, this is a new option that allows you to display a screen with multiple sliders for adjusting various sound settings. You plug in a wired headset (yes, it only works with a wired headset), then the phone processes the incoming sound to make it easier to hear.
Apple has a similar feature that works with AirPods, which would probably be more convenient because you can configure the phone more easily next to the speaker because no wires are involved. IPhones can also work directly with some hearing aids, allowing you to adjust phone settings.
Although there are only a few sliders – boost, fine tuning, mic volume and sound reduction intensity, as well as adjustments for the left and right ears – Google says that behind them are " thousands of parameters ". It works locally, without the need for an internet connection
I'm not hard of hearing (beyond what is normal for a 40-year-old who was attending rock concerts), so I struggled to adjust the sliders to really make major improvements. But the setting of different sliders dramatically changed the sound profile of what I heard. You also have the option of using an external microphone if you need it, and Google indicates that this feature will be available to developers who will be able to integrate it to their own applications via the Dynamic Processing Effect API. .
Google claims that it has not been ruled out to create applications for iOS, but that it focuses on Android for the moment. Sound Amplifier should be available on the Play Store for Android today, and people wishing to try Live Transcribe will need to sign up to be notified of its availability.
Correction: The original version of this piece did not support the support of short sentences in other languages in the form of "translate" instead of transcribing. We regret the mistake.