Google made multiple major announcements related to the future of its Assistant today, including new voices, a feature to teach kids good manners, the ability to continue conversations, and Assistant being able to make phone calls on a user’s behalf.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai says he wants Assistant to be “natural and comfortable to talk to.” As such, users can now keep a conversation going with Assistant without repeatedly saying, “Hey Google,” to start every query. If you want to ask a question, you can keep asking more until you’ve reached a natural stopping point in the conversation. The feature, called continued conversations, should be available in the “coming weeks.” Amazon’s Alexa assistant already does this with its follow-up mode.
Assistant can now also handle multiple actions, that’ll let users ask for multiple things at a time.
Most interestingly, Google says Assistant will eventually be able to make phone calls for us. Users might be able to use Assistant to book appointments at salons or doctors’ offices. The live demo Google conducted showed Assistant making a phone call and then carrying out a conversation to book a hair appointment. It considered various time slots and compared them to the Assistant user’s calendar to find a convenient booking. The demo was incredibly impressive and natural sounding. It’s hard to believe it’ll work that well in the real world, but it would be life-altering if it did. This feature likely won’t be rolling out anytime soon, although Pichai says Assistant will soon automatically call businesses to ensure that it knows the correct hours, especially during holidays. You’ll see this information automatically updated in Google Search without knowing Assistant had to make a phone call.
The calling technology, called Duplex, is explained in a longer Google blog post that describes how the team is thinking about latency in responses and the Assistant’s natural cadence.
Director of product Lilian Rincon also demoed how voice controls will assist with more visual tasks, particularly with smart displays. Users will be able to ask Assistant to call up cooking videos and other video programming from YouTube. The Assistant is also getting a revamped look and experience on phones. It’ll act a lot more like Google Now and will call up a full-screen page of information when a question is asked. Smart home requests will also show up on the phone’s screen. The company has partnered with multiple food retailer chains, including Starbucks, Domino’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts, to streamline food pickup. Users can ask for their “usual order” and Assistant will pull up what it thinks they’ll want. The Assistant will also come to navigation in Maps later this summer, and users will be able to use it to play music from YouTube without video and to get their ETA.
The company’s new “pretty please” feature teaches kids to be kind and say “please” and “thank you” to their Google Assistant-equipped device. The Assistant will thank kids for saying please and will call out when the kids have asked for something nicely. This might help them learn to not demand things from their Assistant. Finally, six new voices are coming to the Google Assistant, including some male voices, like one based off singer John Legend
The company said last week that its Assistant is now compatible with more than 5,000 home devices, which is up from only 1,500 in January. Today, it said Assistant will support more than 30 languages and will be in 80 countries by the end of the year. Google’s clearly focusing on its Assistant, both from a usability standpoint and its prominence in the public conscience. The company installed a huge brand activation at CES and aggressively started marketing its Alexa competitor. Beyond getting the word out, Google needs to keep adding these features in order to stay ahead of Amazon and beat it in the smart assistant race.