Google has introduced two new apps for Android, Live Transcribe and Sound Amplifier. Google first demonstrated Sound Amplifier in May of last year at I/O, its annual developer conference. Now both Sound Amplifier and Live Transcribe are rolling out to Android users.
This apps were designed to help those with auditory disabilities. The first uses machine learning algorithms to turn real-world speech into real-time captions and the second to augment and amplify surrounding sounds with nothing more than a smartphone’s built-in microphone. Both are available on Android starting this week.
The Live Transcribe is a new tool which transcribes speech around a user in near real-time. Simply open the app and it immediately starts listing out the surrounding conversation in big, easy to read text. Live Transcribe does require an active internet connection to work, and it also only works in a limited state. It’ll be built into Google’s own Pixel 3 phones, and available as a Play Store download for other Android phones. Notably, it is still in limited beta at the moment. Users can sign up for the beta here.
According to Google, Live Transcribe is available in over 70 languages and dialects. It also enables two-way conversation via a type-back keyboard for users who can’t or don’t want to speak, and connects with external microphones to improve transcription accuracy. However, it needs accessibility permission from settings, and then users can start using Live Transcribe from the accessibility button on the navigation bar.
The Sound Amplifier on the other hand, is an app that tries to make sound clear and easy to hear. Google says that it “works by increasing quiet sounds, while not over-boosting loud sounds,” and works with wired headphones to filter, augment, and amplify sounds in the environment too. There are settings for noise reduction and to minimize background noise.
Sound Amplifier boosts audio heard by your smartphone or the microphone on your wired headphones (it doesn’t work with wireless options) to make it more clear, all without any sort of internet connection required. Users can fine-tune the settings with a couple of sliders, and also filter out unwanted noise to some extent.
Sound Amplifier is already available on the Play Store, and it’s compatible with phones running on Android 9 Pie for now. It’s also preinstalled on the Pixel 3, just like Live Transcribe.
The Apps Demostration
During a demonstration with the press last month, a group of Google product managers showed how their presentations could be transcribed into text in near real time by Live Transcribe. In another corner of the room, Google had engineered a hearing loss simulator as part of the demo of Sound Amplifier. Slip on a set of headphones, and a Google employee cranked the simulator to reduce your hearing abilities. By using the new app, testers could swipe on a series of sliders to adjust volume, ambient noise, voice clarity, and the distribution of sound to left and right ears
Google research scientist Dimitri Kanevsky, who has been deaf since age one, had a conversation with a colleague about an upcoming party while using Live Transcribe on his personal phone. The transcriptions appeared on his phone’s screen, but for the purposes of the demonstration, they were also cast onto a larger screen. While watching, we could see that not all of the wording was accurately transcribed (Kanevsky also has a thick accent). But the app was smart enough to pick up on the difference in meaning between the words “chili” and “chilly” when they were used in different contexts.
Kanevsky emphatically described how challenging and expensive it can be for deaf people to arrange for real-time transcriptions of conversations, both in personal environments and professional settings. This tool, he said, gives people much easier access to this kind of technology. Google also said it worked directly with Gallaudet University, a renowned private university in Washington, DC, for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, to get regular feedback during the development of the apps.
“We believe we’re opening up an entirely new space for deaf and hard-of-hearing users,” says Brian Kemler, one of Google’s product managers. “We’re not just building accessibility onto products. In this case we’re building for accessibility first.”
Google says that it hasn’t ruled out creating apps for iOS, but it’s focused on Android for now. However, the launch of the Android app is a great start to greatness.