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Android KitKat May Have "Always Listen" Support

By - Source: Slashgear | B 17 comments

This feature may only be available with phones with dedicated hardware.

Slashgear reports that a recent leaked build of Android 4.4 "KatKat" references to homepage-based "OK Google Now" abilities, meaning the platform will support phones that can "listen" for commands without draining the life of the battery. Currently, the ability to speak commands is limited to the speaker button on the Google Search widget and within the Google Search app itself.

The news is based on a leak of an Italian build of the LG-made Nexus 5 running Android 4.4, which was capable of responding to "OK Google" or "OK Google Now" from the homescreen. This device is supposedly shipping with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 chip featuring the company's Snapdragon Voice Activation tech.

The report also points to Motorola's Moto X phone that uses the Motorola X8 compute system for voice activation even when the phone screen is off. There's a unique CPU core dedicated specifically to low-power listening, thus the phone's battery isn't eaten alive as the device sits and listens for the next user command.

That said, this "listening" ability will likely be introduced on the Nexus 5, and a feature not every Android phone will support. That is, of course, if Google hasn't teamed up with device makers to optimize this app in such a way that the battery drain is minimal. This "listening" feature may also be an Android 4.4 feature exclusive anyway, excluding many devices.

AndroidPolice also reports that Google is actually releasing a new "Google Experience" launcher within Android 4.4, and possibly as a free, standalone app on Google Play for those who want to ditch the manufacturer's custom interface. The brand itself will also include other components -- like the Google Keyboard for instance -- that users can install to make their device more Google-like.

The report clarifies that Google Search/Now is integrated deep within Google Experience, and has a permanent home on the very left home screen. This screen features a one-touch button to set a reminder, and the Search's voice input prompt is now somewhat transparent on the bottom and floats instead of occupying the whole screen.

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  • 11 Hide
    iknowhowtofixit , October 15, 2013 2:36 PM
    Hopefully this is a feature and not an NSA mandate spun by the PR people at Google.
  • 11 Hide
    Onus , October 15, 2013 2:58 PM
    I don't want to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but given the Constitutional violations of the current US Government, this looks like potentially one more feature they could and would get their hands on and abuse.
Other Comments
  • 11 Hide
    iknowhowtofixit , October 15, 2013 2:36 PM
    Hopefully this is a feature and not an NSA mandate spun by the PR people at Google.
  • -2 Hide
    JD88 , October 15, 2013 2:50 PM
    Quote:
    Hopefully this is a feature and not an NSA mandate spun by the PR people at Google.


    I actually hope it is an NSA mandate. Could you imagine the number of farts they would hear from people with these in their back pocket?

    Isn't the NSA big brother thing overplayed yet? Everyone cool stopped talking about it ages ago when they realized that there was nothing in their lives for the government to give two brown nuggets about.
  • 11 Hide
    Onus , October 15, 2013 2:58 PM
    I don't want to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but given the Constitutional violations of the current US Government, this looks like potentially one more feature they could and would get their hands on and abuse.
  • 8 Hide
    usbgtx550 , October 15, 2013 3:10 PM
    Not to sure if I'm a fan of this "always listening" feature.
  • 1 Hide
    stm69 , October 15, 2013 3:52 PM
    OLLLLLLDDDDDDD..... NSA already has this feature for years! :) 
  • 0 Hide
    joytech22 , October 15, 2013 5:01 PM
    I seriously doubt the "Always Listen" feature would be for monitoring..
    Imagine the amount of data required. A whole day might rack up 50-100MB just for monitoring your chatter. Why would Google intentionally do that to your data plan?

    Always-listening would probably use Android's Offline voice recognition.
  • 0 Hide
    monsta , October 15, 2013 6:09 PM
    I just wish they would hurry up and release Kitkat 4.4
  • 2 Hide
    stevejnb , October 15, 2013 6:19 PM
    Quote:
    Not to sure if I'm a fan of this "always listening" feature.


    Reading the article, it made it sound like it was a specific piece of hardware that is aimed at very specific signals with a low power overhead, rather than a catchall "record everything and send it to the evil government" type setup. If it remains this, I see it as nothing but good... Seriously, if you can at any time say "Call Eye P. Freely" and it calls that person from your contact list without clicking buttons, or "ignore call" and all that jazz, I don't consider that a terrible thing.
  • 2 Hide
    mrmez , October 15, 2013 7:29 PM
    And people are paranoid about Apple's finger print scanner...
  • 1 Hide
    JD88 , October 15, 2013 8:37 PM
    My father has the Moto X. I talked him into upgrading from the iPhone 4s to that instead of a 5s.

    Both he and I were worried at first that it might be hard for him to use the phone to its full potential as he isn't very technically inclined (almost 70). He uses his phone for only basic apps, web browsing, and maps. We were both blown away by the phone. He didn't like the Galaxy S4 or HTC one because he said they were too big. He said the Moto X felt as small as the iPhone 5 because of how well designed it was, yet still had a big screen. He tells me he uses the voice commands all the time and that they work about 9 times out of 10. He says he uses it to program navigation, dial phone calls, send text messages, and to search things in Google. He doesn't like to type a lot on phone keyboards and says this has made it to where he barely has to at all.

    In short, Google has done something pretty amazing here. Unlike gimmicks from Samsung or Apple, this is software and hardware that normal people will actually use in their everyday life.

    Edit:

    I also wanted to note how much he does NOT miss his iPhone. Part of this was probably because the home button was going out on it for the second time. He has had every one since the second gen and was worried about the change in software from what he is used to. He had no trouble adapting to Android right away and says it's just as stable and smooth has his iPhones were, if not better. He said he loves the ability to put widgets like email and weather on the home screen where they are easy to get to.

  • 0 Hide
    teh_chem , October 16, 2013 5:58 AM
    I find voice command/interface with 4.1+/Google Now to be convenient for a few things--setting a reminder, instructing navigation, a brief google search, etc. But not nearly enough to have an always-listen mode running all the time. I'm okay interacting with my phone to turn on a voice command feature, it doesn't need to be running all the time waiting for me to say "OK Google."
  • -1 Hide
    Lachezar Tsochev , October 16, 2013 6:50 AM
    Google invents AdID cookie and an "always listening" service on their smartphone, nobody bats an eye. Microsoft has that feature on the kinect for start up and shutdown and everybody loses their mind. Apple puts a fingerprint scanner and people start talking about end of the world

    Because fuck logic....
  • 1 Hide
    stevejnb , October 16, 2013 7:07 AM
    Quote:
    Google invents AdID cookie and an "always listening" service on their smartphone, nobody bats an eye. Microsoft has that feature on the kinect for start up and shutdown and everybody loses their mind. Apple puts a fingerprint scanner and people start talking about end of the world

    Because fuck logic....


    Google is the cool kid, MS and Apple are the ones that it is cool to hate. In the hundreds of discussions I've seen concerning the XBOX One, I think I've seen people mention that you can turn the Kinect off all of twice.

    I don't believe this technology is the end of the world - in fact, I like what Google is doing here - but the fact is, if any company is a threat to our privacy, it's Google. Their whole business model is built around offering you cheap or free products, but making their money back through selling your data. That people *flip the heck out* over MS doing things like they are with the XBOX One but praise Google all day long is a double standard brought on by brand support. Basically, if people like a company's product enough, they'll forgive transgressions that they will crucify another company for.
  • 0 Hide
    JD88 , October 16, 2013 8:27 AM
    Steve, I don't think it's that Google is the "cool kid," it's that Google doesen't have the PR problem Microsoft does.

    Everyone knows what Google's business model is. It's not hard to understand. They offer well made and designed services and products and offer them free or at low cost in order to use them to see what you browse for on the internet so they can target ads that you would already be seeing more towards your taste.

    No one cares because that's a small price to pay. You're seeing the ads anyway. It's an automated process, no one is actually looking at your data other than a computer running an algorithm. They don't sell or give away personal identifying information either. Google is a very useful tool that people use daily to enrich their life. Of course people will favor it.

    Conversely, as a company, MS has a big public relations problem. It has a track record of greed, monopoly, price gouging, and bad customer service.

    Here are a few examples why:

    Microsoft wants to video tape you with the Xbone in order to gauge your reaction to television advertising. Still, it's not like MS is keeping video records of what's going on in front of your TV, it's a computer with an algorithm again. However, that just sounds damn creepy and the public agrees.

    -Xbox subscription requirement. MS wants me to pay to be able to watch services I already pay for like Netflix and to be able to play games I already purchased online. Thanks, I'll pass. No such issue with PS or PC.

    -Windows Phone 7. MS screwed over everyone who bought a Nokia Lumina 900 less than 6 months after the phone released by releasing WP8 and not providing an upgrade.

    -Over $200 for office? LOL. It's better now that there is competition, but MS screwed people on this for years while they could get away with it.

    -Scroogled Ads? No class and sounds bitter. When was the last time Google tried to attack another company publicly? Sounds like a spoiled brat loser to the public.

    -Xbone launch DRM debacle. I won't go into this but it wasn't good for PR.

    -Ill will generated from the dramatic shift away from the norm in Win 8. Regardless of whether you think it's a good or bad OS, it certainly created a lot of bad publicity.

    MS needs a good PR team to change the image of the company in the eyes of the public before it can hope to be treated like Google.

    MS provides the tool you have to use while Google provides the tool you want to use. MS needs to fix that mindset somehow.
  • 1 Hide
    stevejnb , October 16, 2013 8:55 AM
    JD88,

    I think you're trying to separate two things which have a pretty tight causal relationship. My thought to respond to your post is "a large part of why Google is the 'cool kid' and not MS is because MS has a PR problem." You say no-one cares about this or that" - frankly, not many people even realize these things are happening, which is kind of the point. A lot of people can tell you "Oh, MS does anticompetitive things like only packing their own browser in with Windows" but either don't know or don't care that Google does precisely that with Android, and nearly controls as much of the market with Android as MS does with Windows. They don't know that Google makes more money than MS because they don't see the big price tags and, heck, whereas Apple got a big headline in half the newspapers in the US when they passed the value of MS, I don't think I ever saw one for Google. Google has crept buy keeping a low profile as they are every bit as much a big, faceless, megacorporation as their maligned competitors.

    My mom knows that Microsoft has been slammed for anti-competitive products in the past - how could she not, it was headline news for years - but she doesn't know that Google has come under fire for several lawsuits of a similar nature. Heck, most of the students I deal with still think that Google is a fraction of the size of MS and Apple controls most of the smartphone market. Why? PR problems.

    It's not unlike Apple being slammed for using Foxconn for device construction. People will scream to the rafters around slave labour, unethical business practices, etc etc, while typing it all out on a computer made in the factory next door to Apple's, and they don't even realize it - or if they do, they happily sweep it under the mental rug. Why does Apple get so much heat for something almost every tech company does as a general rule? Well, it's cool to hate Apple. MS is in the same boat to some degree. Apple at least has the PR ability to create a very positive public perception counterforce, but even that is wearing thin. MS has never had the ability to do that. Again, a big part of why it's cool to dislike MS, it's viewed as perfectly normal to bash them for X, Y, and Z which other companies routinely do as well but somehow get away with, etc etc...

    You mention things like "an automated process, no one is actually looking at your data other than a computer running an algorithm." You realize 90% of the NSA stuff that people are in the process of freaking out about is exactly that? Seriously, go to NBC and read through the comments on an NSA article and you'll see thousands of freak-outs over that relatively benign data mining, just scanning for "bomb" and "White House" showing up in the same e-mail. (come to think about it, I'm probably flagged now) Google does this as a standard business practice though and... Who really cares? The thing is, people DO care about this type of thing a lot when it doesn't have the right PR spin on it. Google is great at doctoring their image so they can freely do what others are chastised for. They're easy to like even if they are doing things that people generally hate - so they get a free pass. They become the "cool kid."

    You say "It (MS) has a track record of greed, monopoly, price gouging, and bad customer service." Google is getting pretty close to MS on a few of those points with a slew of other points that MS is not responsible for but... Who knows about it? Not many. Not many care. Again, giant faceless evil megacorporation trying to milk you any way they can and no-one really cares... But when another company does it, well, they're just bad guys. You said it - PR ability. Google has it, MS doesn't.

    You're dead on - MS has a big PR problem. This isn't a case against MS being the uncool kid though - it's a big piece of evidence for that conclusion. Google gets away with things that MS doesn't - as in, it's every bit as unscrupulous a company as MS, but it gets away with it. Why? Because its the "cool kid" and the media just isn't as interested in talking about Google transgressions as MS's. It's not a hot button issue in people's minds. The idea of Google being out to get us doesn't gel with the mindshare that Google has managed to capture in the tech world - even if they are out to get us every bit as much as their often maligned competitors. It's good being the cool kid.
  • 0 Hide
    JD88 , October 16, 2013 10:03 AM
    I don't want to get into a debate about which company has moral high ground because that is subjective.

    What I will argue is that Public Relations is very much about doing the right thing by the consumer. It is not simply who can cover up how bad they are screwing you the most or how big of a corporation they are. In that spirit, it is important to look at actions and track record.

    Consider for a moment that the problems MS has are actually it's own fault for the reasons I listed in my last post.

    Also consider that perhaps people like Google simply because it is actually offering quality products and services with reasonable cost. If they are making money, it is not directly coming out of the pocketbook of the consumer which is what people care about most. People feel like they are actually getting a good deal that makes sense. The same deal that has been around for decades. Watch or listen to some ads in exchange for something "free." What they don't like is paying for products that are obviously overpriced simply because a monopoly is in place.

    Yes, it's possible to brainwash the masses into believing you offer something good when you don't. Apple (today) is probably the best example of this, but that is largely because it is still riding on the reputation it developed over the past few years when it innovated the market. In general, long term opinions are formed about corporations on the basis of experience with their products and services, not their marketing arm.

    Some of the highest consumer rated companies got that way because of this model. Some of the best include:
    UPS
    Amazon
    Whole Foods Market
    Lowes
    Disney

    Worst:
    Comcast
    Exxon Mobile
    EA Games
    Verizon

    Seeing the trend here?

    Yes, the NSA thing is bad but that effects every technology company. Idiots get scared easily.

  • 0 Hide
    stevejnb , October 17, 2013 8:39 AM
    Quote:
    I don't want to get into a debate about which company has moral high ground because that is subjective.

    What I will argue is that Public Relations is very much about doing the right thing by the consumer. It is not simply who can cover up how bad they are screwing you the most or how big of a corporation they are. In that spirit, it is important to look at actions and track record.

    Consider for a moment that the problems MS has are actually it's own fault for the reasons I listed in my last post.

    Also consider that perhaps people like Google simply because it is actually offering quality products and services with reasonable cost. If they are making money, it is not directly coming out of the pocketbook of the consumer which is what people care about most. People feel like they are actually getting a good deal that makes sense. The same deal that has been around for decades. Watch or listen to some ads in exchange for something "free." What they don't like is paying for products that are obviously overpriced simply because a monopoly is in place.

    Yes, it's possible to brainwash the masses into believing you offer something good when you don't. Apple (today) is probably the best example of this, but that is largely because it is still riding on the reputation it developed over the past few years when it innovated the market. In general, long term opinions are formed about corporations on the basis of experience with their products and services, not their marketing arm.

    Some of the highest consumer rated companies got that way because of this model. Some of the best include:
    UPS
    Amazon
    Whole Foods Market
    Lowes
    Disney

    Worst:
    Comcast
    Exxon Mobile
    EA Games
    Verizon

    Seeing the trend here?

    Yes, the NSA thing is bad but that effects every technology company. Idiots get scared easily.



    Well, if we're not getting into debates on subjective grounds, then these statements should probably have never ended up in your post...

    "People feel like they are actually getting a good deal that makes sense. The same deal that has been around for decades. Watch or listen to some ads in exchange for something "free." What they don't like is paying for products that are obviously overpriced simply because a monopoly is in place."

    Go out and ask your average user - I think you called them "idiots" at the end of your post - and ask them if they think Windows is overpriced. For most people Windows represents a fee they pay once every few years and in exchange for that they get an all but ubiquitous operating system that is well supported and is a mixture of controlled where it is needed for official functionality and open enough to allow for significant playing around. A lot of peoples' subjective judgements about Windows is that, in spite of past transgressions of the company, Windows isn't such a bad deal for a PC operating system. Heck, most people just accept the fee and like Windows just fine. Not here on Tom's or among the technophiles obviously, but if we're actually talking your average user, they don't tend to think Windows is the devil like everyone around here. You say "Also consider that perhaps people like Google simply because it is actually offering quality products and services with reasonable cost."... XBOX 360, Windows Phone, and Windows itself are all products which the average consumer tends to not look at as particularly overpriced or underperforming. And heck, even Windows 8 has average customer satisfaction numbers in the 70 percentile range. Most Android phones struggle for those kinds of numbers and very few succeed at reaching them.

    http://www.ntcompatible.com/news/story/windows_8_customer_satisfaction_drops_to_vista_era_lows.html

    http://www.geekwire.com/2013/customer-satisfaction-microsoft-software-declines-slightly-windows-8-launch/

    So yeah, quality services at a reasonable cost... MS customer satisfaction surveys suggests people think they offer exactly that. And besides - didn't you want to keep away from the subjective which is precisely what you're delving into here, with peoples' judgements of quality and affordability?

    Also, "very much about doing the right thing by the consumer"... Well, this is a bit of a grey area, simply because in theory you're right - but I dare you to find a company that conducts its PR solely as a "doing right by the customer" rather than a "covering up how we're screwing them" affair. They are few and far between, and this is especially true in the tech world. There are so many hot button issues out there in tech that almost all, if not every, major tech company is doing something that the consumer base is screaming about somewhere or another. Sweatshop labour, privacy issues, made in America/Western world, nickel and diming through micro transactions, etc etc. The thing about the PR of these companies - and Google is on the front line for this - is that many of these companies do things that in other cases the public is in uproar about, but these select companies get away with it because their PR is aces at covering things up. People harp on Apple for sweatshop labour - while using multiple other products which were made with that same type of labour. People complain about privacy from MS services and Facebook - while happily using Google services that actually offer less privacy in many cases. People whine and complain about games "nickel and diming" you with micro transactions - while happily plugging away on their iOS device getting nickel and dimed by Apple store micro transactions. Yeah, in theory, PR is about "doing right by the company" - in practice, that's at best only part of it. The reality is, PR departments attempt to create an atmosphere where people don't think of company X as being associated with practice Y when they really are - or, at least, that it's OK for that company to be associated with that practice. Google does *plenty* of things that other companies get crucified for, but their PR is aces at this point - they can do no wrong, even when they're doing wrong. You accuse Apple of brainwashing - which is quite true - but you honestly think that Google isn't pretty good at that voodoo themselves? MS is the only company that seems to be an abject failure at it - barring the XBOX 360, where they had people lining up to pay for their online service well after it had a serious competitive edge over its main rival.

    I guess what it comes down to is this. You say "it's important to look at actions and track record" but that's only partially the case. Looking at the XBOX One in light of MS's track record suggests that your privacy is probably still safe since they are on the more benign side of the whole privacy issue as a whole - they do not rely on data mining you to turn a profit. Then again, here we have an "always listening" Google phone. Look at their actions and track record - Google monetizes you and is quite open about data mining your "private" data in order to make money. Whose track record suggests more respect for your privacy? The painfully obvious answer is MS. Which company is taking heat for this? Go figure, it ain't the one whose track record suggests your privacy is their plaything.

    Lastly, yes, the NSA thing is bad and it affects every technology company - but what it shows is that people do NOT like being data mined by governments. The flip-outs over the XBOX One show that they do NOT like being monitored by companies. The thing is, there is a company that openly admits "we make our money off of you by data mining your personal data" and they are now wildly popular and garner very little criticism for privacy transgressions. Why? A big part of it is that they have this friendly, cool kid image - people trust them. MS is crucified for things in the ballpark of what Google has been openly doing for years but hardly gets any flak for.

    The "idiots" as you call them believe Google is safe and friendly and wouldn't do a thing to undermine their privacy, unlike big bad MS. You mentioned "brainwashing" earlier... Are you sure that Apple is the only one that is really, really good at that brainwashing?