Google Assistant Gets More Features, Greater Reach
By Richard Adhikari
Jan 10, 2019 5:00 AM PT
Google this week debuted a slew of new capabilities for its artificial intelligence software, Google Assistant, at CES in Las Vegas.
One of the headliners was a preview of Google Assistant Connect. The new platform lets device manufacturers incorporate Google Assistant into their products easily and cost-effectively.
Connect uses Google's existing smart home platform to expand to new device types, while making device setup and discovery easy for consumers. A manufacturer could create a continuous e-ink display projecting weather or calendar information, for example, while using Connect to drive content from a linked smart speaker.
"The key here is making device setup and discovery easy for consumers," observed Jack Narcotta, senior industry analyst for smart home strategies at Strategy Analytics.
"Addressing the frustration that still often accompanies smart home device setup and use -- especially during that all-important initial setup -- is a big step for any company seeking to expand its footprint into the smart home," he told TechNewsWorld.
Google also announced new plans for Assistant:
Building Google Assistant into the Sonos One and Sonos Beam speakers so users can control their sound entertainment from anywhere in the home without needing their smartphone. Earlier models of Sonos speakers will be updated to work with Google Assistant;
Expanding Assistant later this year to work with other popular media and entertainment devices, including Samsung TVs. This will let users use voice commands to turn the TV on, change volume and channels, and switch within inputs;
Having Google Assistant built into Dish's Hopper family of receivers. This will let consumers use their Dish Voice Remote to search for content, check the weather, or control other connected devices in the home;
Including Google Assistant in Android TV. Sony, Hisense, Philips, Xiaomi, Haier and JVC are among the Google partners that have launched and showcased such Android TV devices. Several will have far field microphones that will let them pick up the user's voice even with noise in the room or on the TV; and
Expanding Google Assistant's ability to respond to users even when their Android phones are locked if they opt in to this feature. They also will be able to set up and dismiss alarms, schedule reminders and timers, and view answers to personal queries such as traffic and calendar updates. This feature is currently available on Pixels and will be rolled out to all Android devices in the next few weeks.
Assistance for Everyday Living
Lenovo will unveil a Smart Clock this spring, priced at US$79, that incorporates Google Assistant and will let users control their smart home devices.
Whirlpool previewed its new KitchenAid Smart Display with the Google Assistant at CES.
It is a 10-inch tablet that will let users do the following:
Manage everyday tasks such as creating shopping lists, making purchases with Google Express, setting timers and reminders, and browsing recipes on the Web hands-free;
Listen to music, podcasts and radio, or catch up on the latest shows and videos from popular services; and
Have full control over their smart kitchen appliances and entire smart home ecosystem. KitchenAid Smart Display will be compatible with smart home devices that work with the Google Assistant.
The Assistant works with more than 1,600 home automation brands and more than 10,000 devices.
Google is working with more brands to launch smart home devices this year. These include select Whirlpool connected appliances, GE's smart microwave, and security products from August.
Several new devices in new categories now work with Google Assistant:
Refrigerator and wine storage racks;
McAfee's Secure Home Platform;
Water leak sensors; and
Electric vehicle chargers.
Google has been working with Anker and JBL to build the Assistant into car accessories so that users can connect smartphones to their car stereos through Bluetooth or AUX.
Meanwhile, Verizon previewed the HumX at CES -- a car accessory with built-in Google Assistant that lets users pull car diagnostics with voice commands.
Virtual personal assistants (VPAs) have been pushing into the automotive market, according to IHS Markit.
Google Assistant soon will offer more robust air travel support. Users will be able to check in for their flights, and save and retrieve boarding passes using Google Assistant on Android or iOS.
They'll be able to do so simply by saying, "Hey Google, check in to my flight" -- no need to remember confirmation numbers.
The Assistant will notify users proactively when it's time to check in. If they plan to stay at a particular hotel or motel, they can book a room using Google Assistant. Further, support is on the way for Google Keep, Any.do, Bring! And Todoist, for help keeping track of itineraries with notes and lists in the Google Assistant.
For those traveling outside of their language comfort zones, Google Assistant can help remove barriers to communication. Interpreter Mode -- which will roll out over the next few weeks on Google Home devices and Smart Displays -- users can ask the Assistant for help conversing in dozens of languages.
Initiating Interpreter Mode is as simple as saying "Hey Google, be my French interpreter," for example. The Assistant will provide real-time spoken translations, and written ones as well on smart displays.
Google announced a pilot of Interpreter Mode this week at CES at the concierge desk in Caesars Palace, as well as at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, and Dream Downtown in New York City.
All Google, All the Time
"By expanding the functionality and programmability of Assistant, Google is helping empower their business partner ecosystem to build a huge variety of services for people to interact with throughout the day," noted Alan Lepofsky, principal analyst at Constellation Research.
"From the time they wake up to getting their news, daily agenda meetings and tasks, to entertainment for the evening and setting alarms, Google is effectively inserting themselves into every aspect of people's lives at home, work and in transit," he told TechNewsWorld.
That said, companies making smart home devices "need to understand that technology burnout is real," Strategy Analytics' Narcotta said. "Every person has a different limit for how connected they want to be."
At the very least, the multiplicity of smart home device controllers that will emerge will create chaos.
"I have a lot of these [controllers] in my house, and, at times they go a bit insane," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"It's clear the designs didn't anticipate multiple devices very well," he told TechNewsWorld.
Tackling Amazon Head-On
More than 74 million Americans will use a smart speaker this year, up 15 percent over 2018. By year end, nearly 27 percent of American adults will use one at least once a month, according to eMarketer.
Google's push "is mostly a fight between Google and Amazon" for this huge market, Enderle told TechNewsWorld. Microsoft and Apple "just aren't playing to the level that Amazon and Google are right now."
Amazon's Alexa will continue to dominate the market, Enderle predicted. Most products incorporating voice control "also run Alexa, and, given Alexa's penetration, it will be the dominant assistant on them for the foreseeable future."
This year, Amazon Echo's market share will drop to 63.3 percent while Google Home will take 31 percent, eMarketer predicted. Amazon's share will continue to shrink through 2020.
Google's efforts also may be hampered by its business model, Enderle suggested. "Having all these speakers connected to a company that sells your information doesn't sound particularly wise at all."
Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.