‘Tis the season and Google is feeling generous. Today it rolled out a bunch of new Google Assistant features, including improvements nifty to-do list functionality and a new feature that encourages you to be polite to your inanimate, question-answering bot.
Though the features are packaged as a “surviving the holidays” toolkit, in general, they’re more about home entertainment and productivity. Top of the list is what Google’s calling “visual lyrics.” It essentially turns a smart display, like the Google Home Hub, into a karaoke machine. If you have a Google Play Music subscription, You can watch and sing along to lyrics as they pop up on a screen, though at a demo Google representatives were quick to remind me the feature worked for “non-explicit songs” only. So, like that one Lil Jon song with the 329 cuss words and Ginuwine’s “Pony” are out.
Other display-based features include replies for Google’s recently launched Broadcast feature. Currently, Broadcast lets you record messages on your phone and send them to any Google speaker or display – sort of like an intercom. Starting next week, users will also be able to send replies. So if you’re at the store and want to scare your roommates by saying “Hey Google, broadcast ‘Yo Steve, you want some eggnog?’”, they can scare you right back with a recording saying “Nah, I’m good brah.” You can also link up with a Nest Hello doorbell to spy on your packages and yell at your perpetually late mailman via the new two-way talkback feature.
Also rolling out today is Google’s Pretty Please feature. Introduced at I/O, it reinforces polite manners. You’ll hear a nice chime and kind phrases if you use the words “please” or “thank you” when requesting something from Google Assistant. It’s aimed at helping children develop manners, but it’ll also work with rude adults who verbally abuse their voice assistants – aka me.
But the most useful and least glamorous features are the new notes and lists capability. You can say something like “Hey Google, add Minions shot glasses to my holiday shopping list” and the voice assistant will create a ‘Holiday shopping list’ with Minions shot glasses listed under it. You can also create notes in the same manner.
While none of these features alone is mind-blowing, all together they do make Google’s smart home speakers and displays more functional overall. And considering I mostly use voice assistants to tell me the weather, I guess that’s a good thing.