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Smart Home

Google Home's new continued conversation setting keeps the mic hot for a smoother chat

You won't have to say, "Hey, Google" as often if you want to keep asking questions. Say "thank you" to turn off the mic.


Google wants to talk. 

James Martin/CNET

Google wants Google Assistant to be more conversational, but one of the least conversational aspects of talking to it is a necessary evil. You need to say either "Hey, Google," or "OK, Google" every time you want to give a command to your Google Home smart speaker. You primarily interact with the Home through voice commands, and until now, you had to say those wake words even to ask multiple questions in a row.

Google's new continued conversation feature, introduced at the Google I/O Developer Conference on Tuesday, will keep the Home's microphone enabled for up to 8 seconds after your question, so you can ask more questions without repeating those wake words.

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Keep the conversation going

Set to launch this summer, the continued conversation feature will be a setting you can enable in the Google Home app. It's not a mandatory update, so don't fret if you don't want your smart speaker to continue listening after your initial command. Even if the feature is enabled, the mic will shut off early if you follow your question with a "thank you."

You can also ask multiple questions in a single phrase and Google Home will respond to both. For example, you can ask about the weather and your calendar and Google will answer both questions. Note that you can't actually ask more than two things in a single phrase. Google says the continued conversation feature will let you keep talking to ask as many questions as you want, but you'll need to stop after two and let it answer.

Answering two questions at once is actually a separate feature called multiple actions. Google rolled out its multiple actions feature last fall, but the company is showing it off again at its developer conference as a natural extension of the new continued conversation feature.

Google Assistant is built into both the Google Home speaker family and most recent Android phones, but continued conversations will only be available on Google's smart speakers to begin with. Multiple actions is coming to both phones and Home speakers. Both features should work for any of Google Assistant's many capabilities. You can ask Assistant trivia questions, check the weather, update your calendar, control compatible smart home devices and more. (Here's a complete list of Google Home commands.)

Keeping up

Google Assistant is similar to Amazon's digital assistant Alexa, and Google Home works much like the popular Amazon Echo smart speaker. The two companies have been in a back-and-forth feature battle as they vie for the growing smart speaker market.

Alexa can't respond to multiple commands in the same sentence for now, but she does have a feature called follow-up mode, which is functionally the same as continued conversation. With both continued conversation and multiple commands, Google Home could now have an edge in natural conversation on Alexa -- if you actually want the mic to stay hot.

Staying hot

The reason wake words are necessary in the first place is to allow you to command smart speakers without touching them and prevent them from always recording what you're saying. They only record and respond after they hear the correct phrase. With continued conversation, Google Assistant will supposedly be smart enough to only respond if you continue to talk to it, as opposed to someone else in the room. Still, the feature could easily lead to Google Home recording snippets of conversation when you forget the mic is on.

The continued conversation feature is a nice quality of life upgrade, and I appreciate that Google lets you turn it off. I look forward to testing it out this summer to see if it's smart enough to turn itself off when you turn your attention elsewhere. 

Google I/O: All our coverage of this year's developer conference.

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