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The best way to improve your Google Home experience is to stop talking to it like a computer

In case you haven't heard, voice control interfaces are the future. Whether it's Google Assistant on your phone, an Amazon Echo in your kitchen, a microphone-filled remote for your TV or whatever, more and more of technology nowadays expects you to talk to it. And in the cases of some of these tools, talking is the only way to interact with the system. The problem is, it doesn't always feel natural to talk to a computer, especially after we've experienced failed attempts to get these internet-connected "assistants" to listen to us through their array of finely-tuned microphones.

So even though Google Assistant is getting better and better at recognizing "natural" speech, as its end goal is to understand and converse just like a human would, we end up talking to it like it's a computer — because it is! We speak loudly at a consistent and slow pace. We take unnecessarily large pauses between phrases. We talk to these assistants like they're babies who don't yet have a deep grasp of our language.

But I'm here to give you a tip for talking to the Google Assistant on your phone or to Google Home: just speak to it like you would a person.

Put aside all of your preconceived notions about how bad Google Assistant is at recognizing your voice. Forget those times when it misheard you or didn't hear you at all. Those things happen, and no failed attempt influences whether the microphone will hear you the next time. Talk to the Google Assistant the way it's expecting to be spoken to: like a human querying another human.

When you say "OK Google" you don't have to pause before giving your command. If your phone or Home heard "OK Google," then it's ready to listen to everything else — even if you don't see the lights on the Home or your phone's screen light up right away. Yes sometimes the Home or phone doesn't hear your wakeup phrase — but that doesn't change whether you wait to find out or just give it your command and find out later. The voice recognition is improving all the time — both for the wakeup phrase and for subsequent commands. There's no reason to waste your time pausing for every wakeup just for the off chance that it won't hear you.

Google Home

Also, talk at a normal volume. Google is designing the Assistant to listen for and respond to natural language commands, not a special-coded message string said slowly at a near-shouting voice. Likewise, the microphone hardware in devices like the Home and modern phones are designed to hear you at a normal volume level in real-world ambient noise situations. These are finely-tuned devices with software to match, and these companies are on the right track when it comes to designing these products to work with the way we talk, not the other way around.

This is going to feel weird at first. And some of us will never get used to talking to a speaker or our phone as if it's a person. But in the long run, it's the best bet to have these systems work the way we expect. This generation of Google Home or Amazon Echo may not catch your wake phrase every time — or may trigger accidentally sometimes — and won't understand every command you give, but it's far better than we're giving it credit for. And shouting at these devices or speaking to them like they're children doesn't help the products improve — but adds to our frustration in the meantime.

If we change our side of the interaction, we're all one step closer to making these virtual assistants the science fiction future we fantasize about.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

28 Comments
  • It wasn't until a month or two ago when i realized I didn't have to wait for the sound or the lights to come on. Smh I realized it after seeing people talk to Alexa.
  • people are alone now a days so they need IT junk to feel alive
  • actually I use both my Alexa and my Google Home to stream hockey games so that I have a different one on tv instead of switching back and forth and when baseball season starts I can have one on XM and one on Alexa - they come in mighty handy
  • The Homes are already so much better then Alexa when it comes to understanding commands in my experience. We kept one Echo Dot to keep access to Amazon's Echo only specials but rarely use it and I was reminded why this past week. I moved our Home Mini out of our kitchen recently and the Dot was still sitting there plugged in so I thought I would use it as a timer for our dinner. Maybe Google has spoiled me but asking Alexa to "Check my timer" resulted with it telling me to check user documentation and telling it to "Stop" when the timer went off ended up with me pulling the plug because it kept going off like I didn't say anything. Both commands work perfectly fine with the Minis and are what I feel would be unscripted commands that a user wouldn't have to learn to interact with the assistants.
  • Did you know you can turn off a Google Home timer by saying "Thank you" ?
  • I use words like please and thank you. Partially because I am from the south and it's a habit. Partially because it keeps records and when judgement day comes, I wanna be on the right side of history. In all seriousness, contextual speach is going to help AI learn faster about what people want. Speaking in some form of command language, will get you results sometimes, but will not others.
  • I do that too lol
  • And yes ma'am lol
  • And if it gives me an answer I don't like, I say, "Well, bless your heart!"
  • I say please and thank you to my G Home all the time. Sometimes she doesn't respond unless I say please.
  • Now he tells me. And here all along I've been talking to it like a dog.
  • There's no reason to waste your time pausing for every wakeup just for the off chance that it won't hear you. Off chance? What % is that? 20%? 30%? 50%? It's more of a waste of time giving it commands that it's not hearing because you didn't pause for the wakeup tone. The wakeup tone prevents me from repeating commands like a stupid parrot. Say what you want about it, I'm waiting for the tone.
  • So you'd rather guarantee that you waste time every single time you use Assistant than just the smaller % of time that it doesn't hear you properly?
  • Speaking of wake words.. Andrew have you guys heard anything about an upcoming feature allowing for custom wake words? There were some rumors back in November but haven't heard anything since... Really really annoying saying "hey Google" every time...
  • Jerry had an article on why custom wakewords aren't a thing.
  • Darn, I wanted to be able to say "Jarvis, play Iron Man from Plex on my Kitchen TV".
  • On my V20, I have to wait 5 or more seconds before I give it my command. If I don't, it starts picking it up in the middle, and I have to redo it.
  • Exactly! word word (3 word comment minimum)
  • My Google home always gets activated from the TV 👎
  • Mine does too. At first I thought it was because something sounded just like "Ok Google" or "Hey Google" and it was just similar enough to my voice that it worked. Then earlier today it did it for no apparent reason. Maybe they should call it Google Home Beta
  • Voice control interfaces are not my future, even when I phone a company which is not very often, but when I do, i want to be put through to a human, not some machine.
  • I find that if I don't pause for a half a second after saying the wake word, Google Home devices always misses the first word I say. The phone is different, but there home devices always seems to need the pause.
  • I have two Google Homes and two Minis. The Minis are far more sensitive and are response whores (like that kid who always raises their hand first to answer a question). I secretly think my two Homes hate the Mini in my son's room (it is the one that responds the most and the fastest). To make my kitchen unit feel like it is still off use to me, I put it next to me when watching TV in the living room (girlfriend got me a battery base for it) and then whisper my commands so only it can hear me :)
  • The more technology evolves, the less human interaction there is. 5-10 years from now nobody will actually want a conversation with another person
  • Ok if you say so.
  • But we are talking to them like humans. "Hey Andrew. What's going on?"
  • I think this will be much easier to do when I can change the wake word to something other than hey google or okay google. It is much easier to speak to the Amazon device in a natural tone because I am referring to it as a person and it also doesn't wake may phone up at the same time as I try to ask it to do something. Speaking to it in a normal register is not difficult, I find the mics pick up my commands very well.
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