I have an Amazon Echo at home, and it's the one high-tech gadget my wife and I share. We often take turns asking it questions and giving it commands during a busy breakfast. There isn't anything particularly personal about the way we interact with Amazon that makes this a struggle, but the device can only be linked to a single account when connecting to something like Google Calendar or Spotify. This can be a pain point when, for example, my wife wants to ask for a Spotify playlist for her account, which isn't linked to our Echo.
Today Google showed off its Echo competitor, Google Home. It's meant to be the hub for Google Assistant, the search giant's version of a personal assistant like Siri, Alexa, or Cortana. And Google repeatedly stressed that the AI which powers the assistant will become a sort of "personal Google," software that learns your habits and needs and can anticipate the best response. Unfortunately Google Home can only work with a single account at a time. That means for some of its showcase features — "What's my day look like?" — the device can only respond with a calendar entries for me or my wife, and can't tell the difference between the two of us when we're speaking.
Could Google learn to tell certain voices apart?
Google told us that allowing multiple accounts is something they are working on, but didn't give any timeline for when it might arrive. It seems like the sort of thing that Google could solve using its advanced voice recognition, figuring out the difference in tone and timbre between my voice and my wife's. But trying to solve that problem also open the device up to making mistakes, and that is probably something Google wants to avoid with a brand-new product from a relatively new category.
According to Mario Queiroz, Google's vice president of product management, the ultimate goal for Home is to be able to identify different people in the room. That way, when you and someone else both ask Google Home for your daily schedules, "you get different results," Queiroz told The Verge in an interview. When pressed on how this could be accomplished with anything but voice recognition, Quieroz was reluctant to mention anything more. He did, however, say, "We are working on that design now." Internal teams at Google, most of whom have both personal and work Gmail accounts, are testing how the process would work for both a family of multiple Gmail account owners and for people with multiple accounts themselves.
In its first promotional video for the device, Google kind of skirted around the issue, but appears to suggest voice recognition. We see a family of four, two parents and two kids. The woman can ask Google Home for an update on her schedule and dictates a text message to a friend. The same Home unit then gives the man a traffic updates on his "usual schedule" and send an alternate route to his phone. For the time being, that seamless transition between two very personal transactions isn't actually possible with Google Home, putting a serious crimp in a device that is being positioned as something that a family can share.