Google's audio-enhancing Android accessibility tool Sound Amplifier is getting a significant update this week that will bring the utility to more users and make it a much easier tool to use, the search giant says. The biggest change to the tool is going to be that once the latest update lands for a given end-user, it's going to be available on any handset running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or newer.
Prior to the update, the tool was only available to users on the newest stable release of the world's most popular mobile OS, Android 9 Pie. That means that, based on the company's latest figures for May of this year, it was only available on approximately 10-percent of Android devices on the market. Following the alterations to the underlying code, the software will be compatible with just shy of 75-percent of Android mobile devices — barring one caveat.
What else is new here?
Sound Amplifier, as might be ascertainable thanks to its name, amplifies sounds picked up by a smartphone's microphone or microphones and plays it back enhanced via wired headphones. It allows split amplification between the stereo left and right channels as well as fine-tuning for audio boosting at the mic and at the headphones themselves. Summarily, the tool provides a means for those who are hard-of-hearing to magnify sounds around themselves.
With the new updates, there are some serious UI overhauls in place that will make the tool easier to use and easier to access, to begin with. That starts with a new method for launching the app from the home screen instead of from comparatively buried accessibility settings.
Now, the app will also center around a real-time visualization of audio that's being picked up, helping users to see when they might be missing sounds. At the middle of that visualization, a pause/play button is now present that enables the tool to be activated or turned off as needed.
Instead of showing all of the sliders on a single page in a very utilitarian fashion, the new UI also now includes a tabbed navigation style based on Material Design. The controls are intuitively split between general sound controls page — complete with a check-box for separated per-ear audio tuning — called Sound and another tab for Noise and Source settings.
The latter two settings will now let individualized sliders be accessed to help users tune in specific frequencies and reduce background noise, effectively filtering down to exactly what needs to be heard more clearly.
In terms of caveats, the primary remaining issue is going to be that Google still doesn't seem to have added support for un-wired listening devices. So users will be stuck with the requirement for wired headsets for the time being.
One of two big apps to break-through the audibility barrier
This tool was launched alongside another accessibility utility aimed at solving the same problems and pushed to a wider audience alongside several similar usability changes last month — namely, that's the Live Transcribe app. That other app serves a similar purpose to Sound Amplifier but focuses on visual cues instead of providing boosted sound.
As its name implies, that other free tool transcribes all kinds of audio into a saveable written format that can be read by the user.