It’s a truth universally acknowledged that smart speakers should just shut up. I don’t want to know when Siri / Alexa / Google has locked my front door — I just asked it to do that and I expect it to happen. (We’ll put a pin in the fact that it doesn’t always do this). So Google’s announcement this week that it’s taking more steps to stop its Google Assistant from chattering away to you every time you send a command to a Nest smart speaker is a welcome one.
The Assistant already stays schtum when you ask it to turn the lights off in the room you’re in, sending a gentle chime to let you know it was successful. (You know, in case THE LIGHTS TURNING OFF didn’t alert you to this fact.) However, it still loves to have a good old chat when you ask it to do something like change the temperature of your thermostat. “Okay, setting the living room AC to 76 degrees.”
The speaker will chime instead of start a conversation when you ask it to control smart devices
This new change will, according to a community blog post from Google, roll out over the next few weeks. It will make the speaker chime 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’m in bed at night and softly request my Nest Hub to turn off the living room lights, it will still loudly respond, “TURNING OFF LIVING ROOM LIGHTS.” Sigh.
None of them have cracked the failure nut
Knowing when to be silent is something every other smart speaker manufacturer figured out a while back. As usual with the smart home, Google is lagging behind here. Both Apple’s HomePods and Amazon’s Echo devices are capable of not talking back to you every time you ask them to control smart home devices, no matter which room it’s in. (Outside of that use case, however, all bets are off).
None of them have cracked the failure nut, however. (Back to that pin.) When something doesn’t work as anticipated, all the various voice assistants will reply with an entire manual of instructions on what might be wrong and how to fix it and / or give you a long list of everything it couldn’t do. It’s infuriating.
The solution is simple. So here’s my free product advice to Google, Amazon, and Apple: a nice chime for when a command does work (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 the screen of your smart display or smartphone for you to deal with —should you give a shit.