Google's Plan to Make Assistant Actually Useful

By Andrew Liszewski on at

Released last year, Google Assistant hasn’t really proven itself useful outside of checking the weather, searching Google, or setting an alarm using voice commands. So far it’s been limited to just basic features that are more than matched by other smart assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. But Google is trying to change that.

Last month the company released an official SDK for Assistant, and today it’s announcing a host of new built-in functionality, as well as new third-party integrations, that will improve how intelligent and capable Assistant can be.

Minor improvements include the ability to physically type inquiries to Google Assistant using your smartphone’s keyboard if you’re out in a public place and don’t want to make a scene by talking to your device, improved language support including the addition of French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and Korean, and Google transactions so purchases can be made all from within Assistant, including payment details.

Google Assistant on iPhone

Google’s messaging platform Allo gave iPhone users a small taste of what Google Assistant could do, but now the company is bringing a dedicated Assistant app to iOS that will include most of its functionality like voice commands, image recognition, and Google Actions. Unlike with Google Home or the Google Pixel, however, users won’t be able to launch Google Assistant using a voice command without having the app open in front of them, which limits how useful and hands-free it can be.

Google Lens

One of the biggest features Samsung touted for its Galaxy S8 smartphone was its smart image recognition capabilities using the company’s Bixby AI. But the feature wasn’t available for the device’s launch, and it already looks outdated compared to Google’s new Lens feature that gives Google Assistant the same image recognition capabilities, plus more advanced features.

You can point your smartphone’s camera at a flower and it will tell you what type of plant it is, or point it at a restaurant to get instant reviews for the place. Google also demoed Lens being used to grab the username and password data from the back of a wireless router, and automatically connecting the device to it after extracting the important data. Very cool, and a little scary.

Google is also integrating Google Lens into Google Photos so if you’ve snapped a photo of a receipt, white board notes, a sticky note, or anything else you want to remember, it can extract the important details and data from those images for use in other apps.

Google Home Upgrades

The Google Home smart speaker is completely reliant on Assistant for all of its most advanced features, and Google will soon be upgrading it with new abilities like proactive notifications so you’ll know if you have to leave home early to make a meeting on time due to traffic, or can take your time because of a flight delay. Google Home will also be getting hands-free calling, making it the ultimate speakerphone, plus entertainment upgrades including access to Spotify, Deezer, and Soundcloud soon.

iRobot Robovac Connectivity

Robot vacuums have allowed humanity to reach never-before-seen levels of laziness, but iRobot is taking that one step further with Google Home and Google Assistant compatibility for all of the company’s wi-fi-connected robovacs including the Roomba 980, 960, and 690. Voice-activated commands include starting, stopping, and pausing a cleaning routine, sending a Roomba back to its base for a charge, or asking where it’s currently cleaning in your home.

Whirlpool Appliance Connectivity

Appliance maker Whirlpool announced today that it will be releasing over 20 new appliances under its Whirlpool and Jenn-Air brands in 2017 that will allow homeowners to do everything from checking how much time is left on the microwave, to starting and stopping the dishwasher, to setting the temperature on the oven, or even ensuring it’s been turned off, using simple voice-commands through Google Home.

Aside from granite countertops, it’s a compelling reason to upgrade your kitchen, although older Whirlpool connected appliances from 2015 onward will also be upgraded with the new Google Home functionality.

GE Smart Appliance Connectivity

If you don’t have Whirlpool appliances in your home, odds are most of them are branded GE-branded instead. And today the company announced its entire Wi-Fi connected appliance lineup, which includes dishwashers, stoves, laundry machines, fridges, and even water heaters, will now work with Google Assistant and Google Home.

Users will be able to pre-heat their ovens, turn off appliances, or get a status update on when their undies will be dry. The functionality is tied to Geneva, GE’s own voice-powered assistant, which was actually developed as part of a collaboration with Amazon using Alexa technologies.