Google Disables Malfunctioning Home Mini Feature That Could Cause Non-Stop Recording

Google recently disabled a feature included in its upcoming Google Home Mini smart speaker after a reviewer found that it was causing the device to record conversations and sounds even when no "OK Google" prompt word was spoken.

As detailed by Android Police's Artem Russakovskii, who received a Google Home Mini test unit last week, the device was malfunctioning due to an issue with the built-in touch panel designed to let Google Assistant be activated with a press instead of a voice command.

The Google Home Mini's touch mechanism was registering phantom touch events, causing it to continually record audio, which is not supposed to happen. Russakovskii discovered the problem after finding thousands of recordings in the Assistant section his My Activity portal on the web, where Assistant queries are stored.


Google was alerted to the issue and collected his unit for testing, which led to the discovery of the faulty touch mechanism. The problem as described by Google:
We have learned of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Minis that could cause the touch mechanism to behave incorrectly. We are rolling out a software update today that should address the issue.
To fix the malfunctioning touch panel, Google released a firmware update for all Google Home Mini devices disabling the feature allowing Google Assistant to be activated with a long press. Google told Russakovskii a longer-term fix is in the works, but in the meantime, the press to activate feature will not be available when the Google Home Mini launches.
In response, the updated software disables the long press to activate the Google Assistant feature. Once the Google Home Mini devices receive the updated software, all long press events (real or phantom) will be ignored and Google Assistant will not be invoked accidentally.

The company also let me know that they're in the process of building a long-term fix, whatever it may be. It's too early to say if they're going to be able to deal with "phantom" touch events entirely in software or a recall for affected units will be in order.
When the issue was discovered, Google took it seriously and collected the faulty review unit within a matter of hours. An engineer worked over the weekend to figure out what was going on and the firmware update to remove the feature was available by Tuesday.

Introduced last week, the Google Home Mini speaker is priced at $49.99 and can be purchased from the Google website. Google Home Mini units are expected to begin shipping out to customers on October 18.


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Upcoming ‘Google Home Mini’ Smart Speaker Details and Images Leaked

We've previously covered rumors that Google has been working on a "mini" version of its $129 Google Home smart speaker, which is expected to be unveiled at the company's Pixel 2 smartphone event scheduled for October 4. But it looks as if details and images of the "Home Mini" have already been leaked, courtesy of DroidLife.

According to the tech site, Google Home Mini is the official name of the new smart speaker, which will cost $49 and come in Chalk, Charcoal, and Coral colors.


The Google Home Mini is said to be able to help users with their schedule, set reminders, catch up on news headlines, and other Home-related inquiries, thanks to integrated Google Assistant.

The pictures show lights on top of each unit, which will likely indicate interaction with Google Assistant. But unlike the original Google Home, the images suggest owners won't be able to change the color of the bases on the Mini versions.

Alongside the new smart speaker, Google is expected to launch a rebranded Chromebook or "Google Pixelbook" at its Pixel 2 smartphone event. DroidLife has also managed to unearth pictures of the new notebook, which will reportedly come in silver, offer stylus support, and have three different storage tiers – 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB, costing $1,199, $1,399, and $1,749, respectively.


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Enhancements Coming to Google Assistant Set to Rival Siri Improvements in iOS 11

In the run-up to the official release of iOS 11 this month, much of Apple's focus has been on touted improvements coming to its built-in virtual assistant, Siri. Apart from becoming more naturally spoken, Siri will allow users to get real-time translation between select languages and is said to boast a greater understanding of the user's needs dependent on circumstance and time of day, with the AI assistant's learning synced across devices.

Apple is hoping these and other improvements will go some way to quashing negative perceptions of Siri, which have led some iOS users to turn to rival assistants for a better experience. One of those rivals is Google Assistant, which as well as powering Google's Pixel smartphones is integrated into Google's iOS Search app. In general tests, Google Assistant consistently beats Siri in areas including language comprehension, responsiveness, and answer accuracy. But like Apple, Google's AI team is not resting on its laurels, and this week at Google Developer Days, the company demoed some of the new features it is working to bring to its flagship assistant in the near future.


Like Siri, one of the major additions coming to Google Assistant is a new translator mode, which once activated by the user with the phrase "OK Google, be my [specify language] translator", repeats everything that is subsequently said in the requested language both vocally and visually. While standard translation as such isn't new to Google Assistant, the new way of interacting with it is designed to be more useful when users are traveling abroad.

Another improvement coming to the virtual AI is better contextual understanding of questions. For example, in the GDD stage demonstration, Google Assistant is first asked to show pictures of Thomas, and the AI returns images of Thomas the Tank Engine. Next, responding to the phrase "Bayern Munich team roster", the Assistant returns details of the German soccer team. Then it is once more asked for "pictures of Thomas", but this time the Assistant pulls up pictures of Bayern soccer player Thomas Müller, putting the results correctly in context to the rolling set of queries.

In a subsequent example, the audience is shown how Google Assistant can help them remember the name of a movie that's on the tip of their tongue. The stage demonstrator asks, "What is the name of the movie where Tom Cruise acts in it and he plays pool and while he plays pool he dances". With little hesitation, The Color of Money appears on the screen and the Assistant relates further details about the film.


In addition to these new features, Google said its virtual assistant can now respond to questions faster and is able to understand a user's voice more accurately in noisy environments. It also claimed that the AI now has deeper integration with Google Search, which should enable it to provide more detailed answers to queries.

It's unclear which of these enhancements will make it over to Google's iOS Search app, or whether the company makes some of the features exclusive to Android. Whatever its plans, the GDD demonstrations show just how much the virtual assistant wars are hotting up. And with Google Assistant now showing up in third-party smart speaker devices, there's every indication that Siri in iOS 11 – and in Apple's upcoming HomePod speaker – will have plenty of competition in the virtual assistant space.

Related Roundup: iOS 11
Tags: Google Assistant, Google Home

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New Google Chromebook and Google Home ‘Mini’ Could Debut Alongside Pixel 2 Phones

Google will launch an all-new Pixel-branded Chromebook and a miniaturized version of its Google Home smart speaker alongside new Pixel smartphones at an event this fall, according to a source familiar with the company's plans.

Details are scant on the new Pixel notebook, which will revive the Chromebook line after two years of inactivity, but AndroidPolice suggests it could be the fruition of Google's secretive "Project Bison" first reported last year.


According to rumors, the Bison has a 12.3-inch display, 32 or 128GB of storage, 8 or 16GB of RAM, and a thickness of under 10mm, with the possibility of a "tablet" mode. Originally tipped for a Q3 2017 release and with prices said to start at $799, Bison was said to be considered internally as a serious competitor to Apple's MacBook and Microsoft's Surface Pro, but it's unknown whether the new Pixel Chromebook will actually take this form.

Again, details are few and far between regarding the rumored Google Home "mini" that could debut at the company's fall event, but it's likely to be positioned similarly to Amazon's Echo Dot as a smaller, cheaper version of the $129 flagship model, offering existing Google Home owners a more affordable way of extending smart speaker coverage to additional rooms of the house.

Google's second-generation Pixel smartphones will come in two sizes and both models are expected to feature "squeezable" sides that enable them to perform different functions. The 4.97-inch device will by made by HTC and is said to have a 1080p display and stereo speakers, while the 6-inch XL handset made by LG will feature an AMOLED display with a 2:1 aspect ratio. Both devices are said to have no headphone jack.

There's still no confirmation of the actual date of Google's fall event, but the original Pixel smartphones were unveiled in October of last year, so expect it to be around then.


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Google Home Owners Can Now Stream Songs They Uploaded to Play Music

Google has updated its Home smart speaker software so that owners can now listen to music they have uploaded to and purchased on Google Play Music.

Previously, using a free Play Music account through Google Home was limited to playing radio stations, while paying subscribers could listen to tracks in the streaming service's own online catalog. But now both types of account holders can also play music they have personally uploaded to the cloud (up to 50,000 songs) or bought outright on the Play Music store.


As detailed in the company's product forum post, Google Home will now prioritize uploaded and purchased tracks over radio mixes when users ask to play a certain artist, but on-demand content will play before purchased/uploaded content unless paying users specifically ask Home to play something from their library.

The feature is currently rolling out to all regions where Google Home is supported. See Google's help page on the subject for more.


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Google I/O 2017: Assistant on iOS, Bluetooth Streaming on Google Home, and Easy Sharing With Photos

Google today kicked off its annual I/O developer conference in Mountain View, California, beginning with a keynote where the company announced Google Assistant for iPhone, new Google Home features including the ability to stream Apple Music via Bluetooth, and new photo sharing features in Google Photos.

Google Assistant on iOS


As it was rumored earlier this week, Google today announced that its AI helper Google Assistant is out now for iOS as its own standalone app [Direct Link]. This way, users will be able to chat with Google and gain access to all of its interactive features without needing a Pixel or Android smartphone.


The company also revealed that Google Assistant will be gaining new chatbot abilities and integration with a new technology called Google Lens, which enhances a smartphone's camera with AI learning. As an example, Google showed a demo where a user took a picture of a business's sign, and gave them reviews, menu items, friend check-ins, and more. Other examples include the camera's ability to identify what a user is looking at, such as the species of a flower, or connecting to a Wi-Fi network by taking a picture of a sticker on a router.
Continue reading Google I/O 2017: Assistant on iOS, Bluetooth Streaming on Google Home, and Easy Sharing With Photos

Apple’s Echo-Like Smart Speaker With Siri and AirPlay Could Debut as Early as WWDC

Apple is widely rumored to be working on a Siri-based smart home device with a speaker, and Australian leaker Sonny Dickson has shared new details about its possible design and features on Twitter and with MacRumors.

Apple's smart speaker could take design cues from the Google Home

Dickson said that Apple is currently "finalizing designs" for the Amazon Echo and Google Home competitor, which he expects to be marketed as a Siri and AirPlay device. "It is believed to carry some form of Beats technology," he added, while noting that the device will run a variant of iOS software.

Dickson later told MacRumors that the device, allegedly codenamed B238 internally, will feature a Mac Pro-like concave top with built-in controls. His source, which he told us is "someone inside Apple," described the device as "fat" like the Google Home with speaker mesh covering the majority of the device.

Dickson was told Apple's smart speaker could be unveiled at WWDC 2017 in early June, but as always, the company's plans could change.

In September 2016, Bloomberg reported that Apple's smart home device had entered prototype testing, including both a larger and a smaller model in line with Amazon's current Echo lineup. However, at the time, the report cautioned that Apple's early efforts do not guarantee that a finalized product will be released.

The report said Apple's smart home device would be able to control appliances, locks, lights, and curtains through Siri voice commands. It added that some of the prototypes in testing include facial recognition sensors, backed by an earlier CNET report claiming the device could have a built-in camera for facial recognition.

Dickson is best known for leaking various iPhone and iPad parts from overseas sources, such as these iPhone 5c rear casings in 2013, but his latest information supposedly comes from a source directly within Apple, an area where his track record is less established. His sources have proven incorrect at times.


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Google Home Smart Speaker Now Supports Multiple Users

Google Home received a major update to its voice recognition system on Thursday that lets owners set up the smart speaker to recognize multiple account holders.

The software update means that up to six people can connect their Google account to one speaker and Google Assistant will be able to distinguish users by the sound of their voice. Amazon is said to be working on a similar feature for its Echo range of devices.


The feature works by listening to how individual users say the phrases "Ok Google" and "Hey Google", and then runs the samples through a neural network that can detect certain voice characteristics and match vocal analyses in a matter of milliseconds. Google says the process happens "only on your device" and the samples aren't sent anywhere else.

ArsTechnica asked Google how confident it was in the speaker's ability to distinguish users only by voice. Google responded by explaining that the feature was still being refined. "We don't recommend that users rely upon voice identification as a security feature," said the company.


To enable multi-user support, owners need the latest version of the Google Home app. If the app doesn't highlight the new feature, click the icon in the top right to see all connected devices. After selecting the Google Home speaker from the list, tap "Link your account" and the app will run through the process that teaches Google Assistant to recognize your voice.

The feature began rolling out in the U.S. yesterday, and Google says it will expand to the U.K. "in the coming months".


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Nest Earth Day Discounts Include $30 Off Learning Thermostat, $50 Off Combo Purchase With Google Home

Nest recently announced a new discount has launched for customers looking to purchase the company's Nest Learning Thermostat, allowing them to buy the IoT temperature-controlling device for $219 on its website, totaling $30 in savings. Nest founder and chief product officer Matt Rogers announced the temporary deal in a blog post this week, which he said is tied into upcoming celebrations surrounding Earth Day.

As such, Nest Learning Thermostat's $219 price tag will only remain available to customers until Earth Day, on Saturday, April 22. In the post, Rogers mentioned that since the Nest Learning Thermostat's launch in 2011, the device has "saved over 12 billion kWh of energy," which equates to "enough to power New York City for 81 days."

For us, home isn’t just an address where we raise our families. It’s the world we inhabit, and it’s our only one. As the late Carl Sagan noted in his book Pale Blue Dot, “On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives." So it’s up to us to take care of Earth, for all the generations to come.

In honor of Earth Day, we want to help more people save energy with a Nest Thermostat. Reversing decades of global warming is a huge challenge. But we believe that together, we can change climate change.
Customers also interested in Google Home have a chance to save a little more as well, as Nest also announced a combo deal where purchasing both the Nest Learning Thermostat and Google Home at the same time will earn users $50 in savings. Instead of paying $378 for both devices, customers taking advantage of the Earth Day deal will pay $328. On their own, Google Home costs $129 while Nest Learning Thermostat costs $249.

For those unaware, Google Home is Google's smart home hub, which includes voice controls for numerous home automation tasks like controlling temperature by connecting to Nest.

Last month it was rumored that Nest is working on a cheaper version of its Learning Thermostat that would cost somewhere under $200 in a bid to gain "a bigger share of the connected home market." Cost-cutting measures might include a Nest Learning Thermostat made with less expensive components and potentially one that would lack the current version's metal edges. Also reported to be in the works by Nest are sensors that would let users control temperature room-by-room, an alarm system, digital doorbell, and updated indoor camera.


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Burger King TV Ad Highlights Voice Recognition Challenge For Smart Speakers

Burger King made headlines yesterday when it began running a 15-second television ad made to intentionally activate Google Home speakers and Android phones within earshot.

The simple commercial involves someone posing as a Burger King employee who leans into the camera to ask the question "OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?" – a request designed to prompt Google virtual assistants nearby to start reading the burger's Wikipedia entry. To the relief of many, Google quickly moved to prevent its Home speakers from responding to the ad by registering the sound clip and disabling the trigger.


Voices on TV have been inadvertently triggering smart speakers for months now, but the ad represents the first attempt by a company to purposely hijack users' devices for commercial gain. One likely reason Burger King chose to target Google Home rather than iPhones is that unlike Apple's Siri, the virtual assistant cannot be trained to recognize a particular user's voice, which highlights one of the main issues with connected smart speakers currently on the market.

As it stands, Google Home can only be used with a single Google account at a time, and lacks the ability to differentiate users by their voice patterns. Google has said its ultimate goal for Home is to be able to identify different people in the same room – and hints of multi-user functionality have briefly appeared in the Google Home app – suggesting some sort of voice identification feature is likely coming.

Likewise, Amazon is known to be working on a similar system that would allow its Echo range of smart speakers to distinguish between individual users based on the sound of their voices. According to sources, Amazon's feature would work by matching the person speaking to a pre-recorded voice sample, or "voice print", to verify the speaker's identity. Currently, Echo users can set up multiple profiles and jump between them, but the user must say "switch accounts" or use the Alexa app to do so.


Last May it was rumored that Apple will launch an Echo-like speaker with Siri integration, enabling users to play music, get news headlines, and more, without needing to interact with their iPhone.

According to one source, Apple's speaker could process many typical iPhone Siri commands. For example, users may be able to ask the device to read e-mails, send text messages and tweets, and stream content from Apple Music. Apple is even said to have considered integrating map information into the speaker, allowing the device to notify a user when it's time to leave the house for an appointment.

However, all of these capabilities would require Siri to know exactly who it is interacting with – a feat which, in a communal setting, could pose significant technical challenges for a company high on privacy. In this sense, the appearance of an Apple smart speaker may ride on Apple's ability to make user voice recognition as secure as biometric authentication features like Touch ID.

On the other hand, Apple could bring in biometric features to augment the speaker's user identification system. Indeed, some of Apple's speaker prototypes in testing are said to include technology related to facial recognition, potentially aided by Apple's acquisition of Faceshift and Emotient, which may help the device act based on who is in a room or a person’s emotional state. How secure such systems would be in these scenarios remains unclear, however. According to rumors, Apple's smart speaker-esque device could release later this year.


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