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Quick phrases could let you skip ‘Hey, Google’ for common tasks

“Quick phrases” is a new feature currently under development for Google Assistant that could one day let you skip having to say “Hey, Google” for common phrases like “What time is it?” or “Turn the lights on,” 9to5Google reports. The feature is yet to be officially announced, and it’s unclear when it might launch or exactly which devices might support it.

The feature emerged back in April under the codename “Guacamole.” At the time it was called “Voice shortcuts,” and its capabilities seemed limited to silencing alarms and timers, or responding to incoming phone calls. But the new menu discovered by 9to5Google shows a much broader range of tasks, or “salsas” as Google is nicknaming them. These salsas include the ability to ask about the weather, skip songs, or set alarms and timers in addition to just silencing them.

A menu showing Quick Phrases that can be enabled.
Image: 9to5Google

From the settings menu, it appears as though you’ll need to individually enable specific commands to get them to work without a wake word, and then Voice Match will be used to ensure they only respond to your unique voice. Another menu item suggests that the phrases can be set to work across other Google Assistant devices in addition to your own phone.

9to5Google speculates that the feature works by expanding the list of wake phrases an Assistant device is actively listening for. By default, the software is only listening for a “Hey, Google” or “OK, Google” wake phrase, but presumably if you’ve added “What time is it?” as a Quick Phrase this effectively becomes a wake phrase of its own.

A similar feature, introduced in 2019, already exists for Google’s Nest smart speakers and displays that lets you silence an alarm without needing to say a wake word first. Quick Phrases expands this functionality dramatically to potentially encompass a wide variety of other common tasks.

It’s an intriguing feature, especially for smart home controls that are best activated quickly and without much thought. But Google’s software will have its work cut out if it wants to avoid mistaking other random sounds for its expanded list of wake phrases.

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Tech News

Hey millennials, stop ruining emoji for Gen Z

When I saw the news that Apple would be releasing 217 new emojis into the world, I did what I always do: I asked my undergraduates what it meant to them. “We barely use them anymore,” they scoffed. To them, many emojis are like overenthusiastic dance moves at weddings: reserved for awkward millennials. “And they use them all wrong anyway,” my cohort from generation Z added earnestly.

My work focuses on how people use technology, and I’ve been following the rise of emoji for a decade. With 3,353 characters available and 5 billion sent each day, emojis are now a significant language system.

When the emoji database is updated, it usually reflects the needs of the time. This latest update, for instance, features a new vaccine syringe and more same-sex couples.

But if my undergraduates are anything to go by, emojis are also a generational battleground. Like skinny jeans and side partings, the “laughing crying emoji,” better known as ????, fell into disrepute among the young in 2020 – just five years after being picked as the Oxford Dictionaries’ 2015 Word of the Year. For gen Z TikTok users, clueless millennials are responsible for rendering many emojis utterly unusable – to the point that some in gen Z barely use emojis at all.

[Read: How do you build a pet-friendly gadget? We asked experts and animal owners]

Research can help explain these spats over emojis. Because their meaning is interpreted by users, not dictated from above, emojis have a rich history of creative use and coded messaging. Apple’s 217 new emojis will be subjected to the same process of creative interpretation: accepted, rejected, or repurposed by different generations based on pop culture currents and digital trends.