Pixel Buds 1

Google Adds Responsive Audio Adjustment to Pixel Buds

Google has updated the Google Pixel Buds to react to potentially important sounds by lowering the volume and sounding an alert. The new Attention Alerts feature is part of a raft of updates to the earbuds, including more commands for Google Assistant and other applications of audio AI. Taken as a whole, they point to how Google plans to secure its place in the increasingly crowded hearables market.

Audio Alert

“When you have headphones on, you might miss important things happening around you,” Google explained in a blog post about the new features. “Attention Alerts is an experimental feature on Pixel Buds using AI technology that aims to detect a few important sounds and makes you aware of when they happen.”

As it is experimental, Attention Alerts are limited to responding to just the sounds of a crying baby, a barking dog, or an emergency vehicle’s siren. When the earbuds detect one of those sounds, the volume drops, and the earbuds play a chime sound. It sounds a lot like a simplified version of Google Nest Aware, which can use smart speakers and other sensors to listen for breaking glass, smoke alarms, and other signs of problems in a home, alerting the subscriber about the issue. Google recently took steps to enhance that home security element with a $450 million investment and eventual close partnership with home security provider ADT. Amazon offers a similar feature through its Echo smart speakers, but nothing like it for the Echo Buds. Apple’s AirPods don’t include this kind of feature either, although a recent patent for context-sensitive earbud technology suggests the company could be working on the concept.

Find and Translate

Though Attention Alerts remain experimental, Google added extended a few more established features to Pixel Buds in the update. The transcription and real-time translation features that Google has highlighted as major selling points for the Pixel Buds can now be linked so that someone can hear another language translated audibly and see it typed out on their screen at the same time. The link is only available for translating French, German, Italian, and Spanish into English at the moment, but is likely to include more language conversions soon. Pixel Buds users can turn on the translation transcription service by asking Google Assistant, one of a handful of new tasks the voice assistant can carry out. Google Assistant can also turn the touch controls for the earbuds on or off, and check the battery levels too.

The Pixel Buds are more responsive to how they are being used in other ways too. A new setting enables the earbuds to detect when they are being shared, which lets each person adjust their volume to their preferred level without affecting the other listener. And if the owner loses the earbuds, Android phones will show their location on a map even if they aren’t connected to the phone. That’s on top of the audio ringing Pixel Buds owners can activate to locate their devices. Though none of the new features are individually overwhelming, Google’s willingness to build on the relatively minimal versions in the first release helps it set a baseline that more cautious releases don’t. Every earbud manufacturer is trying to make their creation stand out The unusual shape and close integration with Bixby of the bean-shaped Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and the Alexa (including TikTok) connection of the Echo Buds provide a different angle, but Google clearly sees value in adding and enhancing features on the Pixel Buds, including acting as a kind of baby monitor.


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