Android’s Live Transcribe will let you save transcriptions and show ‘sound events’

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When Google released Live Transcribe this past February, it was a hugely important accessibility feature for people who are deaf or hard of hearing — and it still is. The feature automatically and pretty accurately transcribes the spoken word in near real time in up to 70 different languages.

Now, Google is expanding Live Transcribe with two new features. The first is important for extending it as an accessibility tool: “sound events.” In a month or so, the transcripts will be able to show text for things like “dog is barking or when someone is knocking on your door,” Google says. It will also have indicators for things like ringing phones, laughter, cars, or music. When one of those things happen, a little indicator will appear at the bottom of the screen, as you can see below:


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The second new feature takes Live Transcribe out of the realm of accessibility and makes it potentially more useful for people who are not deaf or hard of hearing. Google will allow users to save live transcriptions for up to three days. Google suggests it would be useful for “journalists capturing interviews or students taking lecture notes.” Those transcriptions are stored locally on the the phone.

As a journalist who spends a significant amount of money on transcription services like Otter.ai and Rev.com, I would like to agree — but those services provide what will surely be more full-featured transcription apps which can save audio and offer transcripts that highlight words as the audio plays. I’ll have to actually try out the new feature on Android before I’d be willing to trust it.

When Google first launched Live Transcribe, it specifically chose not to include the ability to save transcripts. It said the reason was that it kept the feature “simple and easy-to-use,” though I think it might also have had potential privacy concerns in mind.

Google also said that although Live Transcribe requires an internet connection to work, neither audio nor transcriptions are stored on its servers. The sound event feature, however, works locally and doesn’t require an internet connection.

Live Transcribe is available now for most Android phones. Once you’ve downloaded it, you turn it on in the Accessibility settings. The new features will be available “next month,” Google says.

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