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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Google tries again to answer the call of rushed phone use

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Google’s introduction of its new Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro phones Thursday brings renewed focus to what may seem like the least interesting part of these devices: the app that lets you make and receive calls.

“We see a great opportunity to leverage Google’s AI for a better experience,” said Jonathan Eccles, group product manager for the Google Phone app. “Time spent on a phone should be well spent.”

The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro — the latest Android smartphones in the line that Google launched in 2016 to showcase what its software could do on hardware of its design — bring some notable updates to that core app. You should grab your attention within moments of calling a company that greets customers with an IVR (“interactive voice response”) menu to cut the call center budget.

Since a 2021 updateThe Phone app’s Direct My Call feature has transcribed standard greetings from IVR systems, displaying the number of each menu option as the system speaks it.

[Images courtesy of Google]

But on the two new phones, the Phone app will use a growing database to pre-show menu options, a bit like the cheat sheets on GetHuman or the memories you may have cached, except it’s built into the phone to help you browse the IVR prompts.

Google does not name companies that fall under this feature – it is blog post says “the most popular toll-free numbers in the US” – and Eccles characterizes the total only as “a constantly growing number”. It is also unclear why this work requires the additional computing power of the Tensor G2 processor in the new phones.

A second feature may not attract your attention until you are calling from a noisy place. Clear Calling uses on-device machine learning powered by Tensor G2 to eliminate background distractions like gusts of wind or other people in a restaurant on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro.

The obvious parallel is the background noise reduction “transparency mode” on Apple’s AirPods and a similar feature Facebook added in April 2021 as part of a “social audio” initiative. But here it is built into the phone portion of the phone, not limited to an expensive accessory or a social network with trust issues.

[Images courtesy of Google]

The Tensor G2 also offers a minor messaging upgrade on the Pixel 7 and 7 Pro: real-time transcription of the voice messages people can send instead of writing something down — you know, if they’re confused about the whole point of the message. send phone messages.

And like previous Pixel phones, this pair of new models will continue to deliver such exclusive Pixel as hold for me (where the Phone app listens to the music on hold for you and then rings when a human picks up – a godsend over a long year of flight delays and cancellations) and the Call screen option that allows the Google Assistant to assess whether a call is spam and then tells unknown callers who they are and why they are calling.

The fact that those features remain exclusive to Pixel – in the case of Call Screen, almost three years later his debut in December 2019– however, points to an increased stratification in the Android market.

Android’s experience has always been a bit clunkier on non-Google phones, largely thanks to the bad taste Samsung and other vendors have shown in tackling unwanted apps and replacing Google’s core apps with its own, less functional equivalents.

(Can anyone name a good reason why Samsung released its own calendar and phone apps for Android? Can anyone name a must-have feature in those disappointing understudies?)

So maybe Google should be forgiven for trying to even the score and increase the hitherto puny market share of Pixel phones, which research firm Canalys is just 2% of the North American market in the second quarter of 2022.

Eccles suggests this may not be the case forever, saying “stay tuned” in response to multiple questions about the potential arrival of these features on Android phones from other companies, not to mention Google’s own Google Voice. app. But in the meantime, the result remains a wider gap between what Android can do and what most customers see and hear.

 

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