For the hundreds of millions of people around the world with mild or severe hearing loss, good news: Sound Amplifier, an app that taps AI to augment sounds and cut down on noise, is now available in the Play Store for devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow and above. Previously, it was only compatible with phones running Android 9.0 Pie or later.
“Without clear sound, it’s challenging to connect to the people around you and fully experience the world. And simply asking others to speak louder (or turn up the TV volume) isn’t a helpful solution because people hear more clearly at different audio frequencies,” wrote Android technical lead Ricardo Garcia in a blog post. “Sound Amplifier is the latest step in our commitment to make audio clear and accessible for everyone. And we’ll continue to improve the app through new features that enhance sound for all types of hearing.”
Sound Amplifier — which was announced last year at Google’s 2018 I/O developer conference — boosts audio in wired headphones by increasing quiet sounds while “not over-boosting loud sounds,” a feat made possible by Android’s dynamics processing effect engine. Sliders and toggles allow you to customize the built-in sound enhancement and noise reduction models toward enhancing clarity and amplifying conversations (or device audio).
Google says the algorithms underpinning Sound Amplifier were informed by thousands of studies and data about how people hear in different environments, and it says that this same data inspired a new feature — audio visualization — that shows when a sound is detected and the extent to which it’s being enhanced. Other improvements include a shortcut that launches Sound Amplifier directly from phones’ home screens and revamped controls that let you switch between boosting sound and filtering out noise.
Sound Amplifier contributes to Google’s robust and growing suite of accessibility apps. Last year, the Mountain View company debuted Lookout, which provides auditory cues to visually impaired people to help them understand their environment, and Voice Access, an app that replaces touchscreen tap interactions with their voice equivalents. Both were joined in February by Live Transcribe, which uses a smartphone’s microphone (or external microphone) and Google Cloud Speech API to caption real-time spoken words and phrases in over 70 languages and dialects.
More recently, Google detailed Parrotron, an ongoing research initiative that aims to help those with atypical speech become better understood. And at its I/O 2019 developer conference, the tech giant unveiled three separate accessibility efforts: Project Euphonia, which aims to help people with speech impairments; Live Relay, which is designed to assist deaf users; and Project Diva, which gives nonverbal people some independence and autonomy via Google Assistant.
More broadly, Google has made a concerted effort to improve the Android experience for deaf and hard of hearing users. In August 2018, it published a new open specification intended to kick-start the development of hearing aids that work flawlessly on Android phones across Bluetooth low energy (LE), replete with low latency and minimal impact on battery life. And in March 2016, Google launched Accessibility Scanner, an automated tool that evaluates apps and suggests ways they might be improved for visually and auditorily impaired users — by enlarging small touch targets, for example, or by changing the contrast.