Google has been progressively enhancing its speech-related technologies for years, starting in the early days with mostly straightforward commands before aiming much higher with natural language processing and conversational back-and-forth interactions. At I/O 2018, a demonstration included the next stage of this evolution, which has been dubbed Continued Conversation. A beta update to the Google app began rolling out last night, and it's preparing to unveil this new feature.
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As it turns out, we've seen Continued Conversation before in a teardown under the codename Summer Time Mode. The name has been changed and some of the text updated, but more importantly, there's also new text that gives slightly more detail than we had in the past.
There are two main details to take away from the new text. To begin with, it's clearly stated that the microphones will become fully listening – as opposed to just listening for the activation phrase – for a brief time after each response to allow for follow-up questions from the user. Each follow-up will be added to your Google account activity, just like it does already. If you resume speaking, but Google Assistant determines that you're not talking to it, that recorded audio will be deleted and does not become a part of your activity history.
<string name="assistant_settings_summer_time_mode_button_title">Continued Conversation</string>
<string name="assistant_settings_summer_time_mode_button_summary">Your devices microphone will reopen after every response to listen for follow-up questions. These will appear in My Activity as usual. Audio that your Assistant doesn\'t respond to will be deleted from your Google Account.</string>
<string name="assistant_settings_summer_time_mode_title">Continued Conversation</string>
<string name="assistant_settings_summer_time_mode_availability_description">You can change this for these Google Home devices</string>
<string name="assistant_settings_summer_time_mode_availability_clarification">Continued Conversation is currently available for English (US). If you use Google Home devices not shown here, the person with the primary account on those devices may turn Continued Conversation on or off in their Assistant settings.</string>
<string name="assistant_settings_summer_time_mode_availability_no_devices">No devices available</string>
Note: The url above currently doesn't resolve to a help page, but it will likely become available when Continued Conversation mode becomes available.
The other notable detail is that the text clearly refers to Google Home by name, and the phrasing is specific enough that it seems to be excluding other Assistant-enabled speakers and phones. It's too early to make any assertions, but this could mean that Continued Conversation mode will be exclusive to Google Home, either permanently or as a test run before ultimately rolling out to similar devices. My bet is on a temporary exclusive, which fits Google's pattern for similar features.
Phone support is still the big question. Google's demo during the I/O keynote contains no specific details about what devices will be supported – although, a Google Home Mini is pictured, which makes it an obvious choice. It's certainly a possibility that phones won't get Continued Conversation mode, at least if it has a non-trivial impact on battery life.
According to the Google I/O keynote, Continued Conversation would become available in the "coming weeks." Switching from a codename to the formal name of the feature is a good sign that it's getting close to launch. However, the text doesn't appear final, so we may still be waiting for subsequent updates before an official launch takes place.
As a final note, it does sound like Continued Conversation mode may not be enabled by default. Keep an eye out for the launch and we'll be sure to let everybody know if any steps are required.
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