Google has added the ability for up to six people to connect their accounts to one Google Home device, and have Google Assistant distinguish between their voices as they make queries to it, according to a company press release.
Users in the U.S. who have the latest version of the Google Home app can take advantage of the new capability, meanwhile it will roll out in the U.K. in the coming months. In the app, a user will see a card that says “multi-user is available.” From there, the user clicks on Google Home on the list of connected device, then selects “Link your account.”
To teach Google Assistant to recognize an individual user’s voice, the user is instructed to say the phrases "Ok Google" and "Hey Google" two times each. A neural network analyzes the phrases, detecting certain characteristics of the person's voice. From that point on, any time you say "Ok Google" or "Hey Google" to your Google Home, the voice will be compared to the initial analysis to identify the speaker, a process that takes only milliseconds.
Wait — did Google just launch a capability for Google Assistant and Google Home that Amazon Alexa and Echo don't have yet? That appears to be the case. Amazon reportedly has been working on improvements to Alexa's voice recognition capabilities, including the creation of voice prints for different speakers, which sounds similar to what Google just announced. However, Amazon has yet to announce availability of those improvements (If different users want access to their individual Amazon accounts through Alexa, they need to make the switch manually.)
That's a rather stunning development in a market for virtual assistants and the smart home devices in which they live. Google Home has a long way to go to catch up with the market lead established by the Echo and other products in which Amazon has embedded Alexa, but this innovation certainly should help Google Home get a bit more notice.
It would be interesting to know what drove Google to take this aggressive step. It's possible the company has seen demand to support more distinct users in households that already have the Google Home device (and maybe it's coming from the initial Google Home user, who is getting tried of everyone in the family using his or her Google account.) Although, it's also possible that Google is simply getting ready for that eventuality, but in any case it's a sign of market maturity for Google Assistant and Google Home.
Also, the new capability hints at where virtual assistants and voice search and navigation technologies need to go. Retailers and related companies are all focused on the need for greater personalization of the customer experience. A device that recognizes your voice within milliseconds and gives you immediate access to your own profile of music playing choices, product ordering capabilities and even thermostat settings for the room in which you're talking to you're Google Home seems like the ultimate form of personalization.
That could mean a lot to the retailers who are partners in the Google Shopping platform that can be accessed through Google Home. Distinct users can quickly speak their shopping orders without having to change profiles or take other steps that could interrupt a purchase being made. All of which means that Google Home's new edge over Amazon's Alexa also could be an edge that Google Shopping's retailer partners have over Amazon itself.