Google I/O 2017: Google Assistant's Intelligence is Everywhere
Google continues its mission of organizing the world’s information, and then some. The search giant's AI efforts continue to pay dividends with its Google Assistant platform, now appearing on many more devices, including iOS. Now you'll be able to turn off your toaster from your Google Home, or from the middle of Iceland.
Google talked about everything from new Google Photos magic to IoT-enabled YouTube super chat, the new VR headset spec and the latest Android O news, but let's focus on the Google Assistant and smarter home-related bits.
AI is becoming prevalent across Google's various products and services, which, of course, helps with tasks such as voice recognition. And while it may not have that many applications at home vs the outside world, the new Google Lens system harnesses the deep learning of Google to help it understand the world around us through machine vision. Voice and vision are two major platforms that Google is focusing on these days, all powered by its extensive artificial intelligence efforts. And everything from helping you identify the perfect photo for your next Instagram post to assisting doctors with early detection of cancer, benefits from it.
Google Assistant grows up, lands on more devices
Google Assistant launched last year only on the newest mobile devices, then expanded earlier this year to nearly every Android device running Marshmallow or later. According to Google, nearly 100 million users have it, out of two billion active monthly Android users. Today, it became available as a standalone app on iOS devices, much to the happiness of many users who love Apple devices but "live in the Google world".
But while the Assistant continues to grow up, it still doesn't have a cute name like the other four major digital assistants. It's probably brilliant marketing on Google's part, since everytime you have to reference the Assistant, you'll probably think "The Google Assistant".
As the Assistant spreads its wings, it needs to understand additional languages. Coming this summer, French, German, Brazillian Portuguese and Japanese. And by the end of the year: Italian, Spanish and Korean.
And speaking of communication, sometimes using your voice just doesn't make sense, but you might still need the Assistant. Now, you can "type" to it instead of speaking to it. If you communicate with it silently, it will communicate back silently. Awesome. Something else that is now enabled on the Assistant, everywhere, is "Actions on Google". These are, in general, the integrations between the Assistant and systems and services like connected-home gadgets. Previously, these were generally only available via the Google Home.
Something else that's new to the Assistant and Actions is "Transactions". Google showed off a demo with Panera where one could order dinner via delivery. What was impressive is that no Panera account was required, and the entire transaction was handled through the Assistant and via voice. Payment was handled through Google Wallet and confirmed via fingerprint authentication. Most impressive. If this takes off and is as good as it's supposed to be, no one will call restaurants for take-out ever again.
Google Home puts on a show, phones home
New music services "moving in" to Google Home over the next few months: Spotify's free service, SoundCloud and Deezer. Have music on your device that isn't available on one of the supported services? Soon you'll be able to stream it over Bluetooth right to your Google Home, which has a pretty decent sound system.
Listening to the Assistant tell you what you need to know is great, but sometimes it's better to just glance it over. Does that mean a new Google Home coming soon with a screen? Nope, they're not launching a Google Home Show. The air freshener-shaped device will soon be able to send contextual information to your smartphone and/or Chromecast-connected TV. (Btw, Android TV gets the Google Assistant later this year, we'll assume all of this fun stuff will work more natively on those connected "sets".)
Other countries were probably getting envious of the U.S. being the only one to have the "Home", and Google obliged. The United Kingdom landed the Home in April, and the helpful assistant device comes to Canada, Australia, France, Germany and Japan this summer.
But what about the smart(er) home? Google is quickly catching up to Amazon, as they add more core capabilities to their Assistant platform, now boasting more than 70 smart home integrations. And, with the new Google Assistant SDK, hardware companies can enable the Assistant's powers right into their devices. Oh look, another logo to watch for when shopping for gadgets this holiday season. Yes, they actually said that on-stage, in May. But hey, there are only five months until Black Friday. (Good grief!)
And, the big news...hands-free calling! Sounds like there's an echo in here, as if this feature was just added to another voice platform recently... Ok, ok, I'll stop. Google home will soon be able to make free phone calls to any number in the U.S. or Canada. Yes, free. No messaging or fancy Google Home to Google Home calls just yet, but that should be easy enough for Google to implement at some point.
And, remember that new Google Home feature from a few weeks ago that lets you program multiple voices for it to recognize? That will add to the context of many of the new features announced today. "My" schedule will retrieve "your" calendar, and so on. And "your" outgoing caller ID when making a Google Home phone call will match the phone number attached to your Google account. Program your voice once, and it's good to go, forever. Awesome.
Sadly, there were no new hardware announcements. No Google Home 2, or Google Home "tiny house version". Holiday season surprise, anyone? At $129, the current Google Home is still pretty pricey, especially compared to the $39 rock-bottom pricing late last year of the Amazon Echo Dot. If Google Home wants to land in more homes, it must make the device affordable to all. Both Amazon and Google will have new competition soon, with confirmed Cortana speakers on the way and a much-rumored "Siri Speaker" potentially coming soon from Apple. Bixby, are you listening?
Most consumers, according to a recent VoiceLabs study, aren't interested in buying "voice-first" devices from multiple companies. These are usually more expensive devices which people are not used to replacing very often. As the market for these products grows--potentially 3x this year alone--consumers will most likely go for the platform that delivers the best information to them, is easiest to use and connects to the widest variety of connected gadgets and services.