Over the last few years, virtual assistants have become increasingly common in the devices made by the biggest tech companies. One of the most notable is Google Assistant. The Big G’s voice assistant that can be found on a number of devices and has one main goal – to make your life a little bit easier.
What is Google Assistant?
In order to fully understand what Google Assistant is, it might be helpful to look back to where it all began.
Google Assistant is basically the matured state of what once started as Google Now, which premiered all the way back in 2012 on Android 4.1, Jelly Bean. At launch, Google Now presented users with real-time, contextually-relevant information such as flight details, sports game scores, stocks, and news.
This information was presented in the form of cards that could be found to the left of the home screen on a user’s phone if using the “stock” version of Android. Data was pulled primarily from a user’s linked Gmail account and search data.
Google Now On Tap
Fast forward almost 3 years to the release of Android 6.0, Marshmallow, where Google implemented its next step in improving assistant functions with Google Now On Tap. This enhancement expanded on Google Now’s core functionality and more thoroughly integrated it into the Android experience, rather than relying on an app. Now users could long-press the home button on their device on any page they were viewing and get contextually-relevant information from Google.
For instance, if reading an article about the actors in Star Wars, long-pressing the home button would pull keywords from the article (the parts of it showing on the screen, at least) and give you suggested searches. So, you might be presented with a link to Harrison Ford’s IMDB page or R2-D2’s Wikipedia page. The same result would apply if you were texting a friend about grabbing dinner. If talking about a specific restaurant, Google Now On Tap would give a link to their Google My Business page and maybe Yelp reviews.
Google Now On Tap was definitely a promising upgrade, but it never became a staple feature. Many just couldn’t get used to long-pressing the home button when looking for additional information, regardless of how impressive the tech was.
One year after the announcement of Google Now On Tap, Google Assistant was announced alongside Android 7.0, Nougat, and the Pixel and Pixel XL. These three in combination- the hardware, the software and the voice assistant- looked quite promising. At the time of its release, Google Assistant was only available on Pixel phones, acting as a lure for consumers to buy the new hardware. It was sold as a virtual assistant, deeply rooted in the device’s operating system, and ready at the mere utterance of “Ok, Google.” Non-Pixel Android users got jealous.
Google Assistant brought with it smarter recommendations, enhanced functionality, and a conversational tone. It was a huge step up from Google Now, and Google Now On Tap. One of the service’s premier features was its ability to recall your questions. For instance, if you asked Google Assistant “What’s the forecast today?” it would, of course, give you the answer via voice and on-screen visuals. If you subsequently asked “What about this weekend?” the Assistant would understand your string of questions and be able to respond appropriately.
Other Assistants have since come around to this feature, but at the time of release, this was a major advancement. When it comes to more complex strings of conversational questions, Google Assistant still excels over its closest competitor, Siri.
What can you do with Google Assistant?
Google Assistant can perform a huge range of functions that aim to make your life a little easier. From basic to complex, the list is growing all of the time. Below is a general overview of what you can do with Google Assistant.
As mentioned above, you can query the Assistant for details about the weather, just like every other assistant available. You can get the forecast for the day, the week, or up to 10 days in advance. Since Google remembers your last question, you can continue your prompts with “what about tomorrow?” or “how about this weekend?”. You can also be more conversational about it, as it will answer questions like “Will I need an umbrella today?”
Using Google’s access to your location data, Google Assistant can get real-time traffic information before you head out for your commute to work. If you have your home and work locations saved in your Google account, you can ask “How long will it take me to get to work?” or “What’s the traffic like on my way to work?”. You can also ask Google to find the best way to get to work or home, and based on current traffic patterns, it will suggest a route.
“Hey, Google. What’s on my agenda for the day?”
Google Assistant is fully integrated with Google Calendar. If you use the service, you’ll be happy to know the virtual assistant can rattle off what’s on your agenda for the day. You can also add events with Google Assistant, though the process is a little complicated. If you just want a quick rundown of what’s on your schedule for the day, just ask the Assistant “Hey, Google. What’s on my agenda for the day?”. You can also substitute “day” for “week” or ask for a specific date.
Google has been able to help you with reminders for some time, but Assistant makes the process more conversational. Just tell Google “Set a reminder to pick up milk.” and from there it will prompt you to complete the reminder with details about time and location. Your reminders are also presented to you when you ask Google about your day’s agenda. Google Assistant will list your calendar events and then say “Don’t forget to pick up milk at 5:00 pm.”
When Google Now first picked up in popularity, it lacked the ability to perform many device (phone) functions. With Google Assistant, you now have more control over your device by using your voice. You can ask the Assistant to take a selfie, turn on your flashlight, increase your screen brightness, decrease the volume, or even interact with apps on your phone. Though, realistically, some of these actions are just easier with your fingers.
“Hey, Google. Cheer me up.”
Besides controlling the device that Google Assistant actually lives on, you also can use it control other smart devices around your house. With the Google Home app and a connected device such as Nest, Phillips Hue, and Chromecast, you can be the master of your domain using just your voice. You can also set “moods” in the Google Home app. Programming your devices to perform certain actions when these moods are triggered adds convenience the assistant’s voice controls.
For instance, saying “Hey, Google. Cheer me up.” might brighten the lights in your home, adjust the thermostat to the perfect temperature, and trigger your favorite Google Play Music playlist to play through a Chromecast Audio device.
Just like with Google Now On Tap, Google Assistant can still provide contextually-relevant information about a conversation you are having, something you’re reading, and more. Now, when you need more information, just long-press the home button on your device, or say “Ok, Google.” and then select the “What’s on my screen?” option as it prompts you. You can also add “What’s on my screen?” to your audio command to do the same thing. Then you will be presented with additional information as we outline above regarding Google Now On Tap.
“Hey, Google. What does the fox say?”
Finally, what use is a voice assistant if you can’t have a little fun with it? Google Assistant has quite a few baked-in easter eggs to keep you entertained. It can tell you jokes, sing songs, play games, talk about other voice assistants, give you background about itself, and more. If you have a Google Home, be sure to check out our list of the best Google Home easter eggs.
What devices have Google Assistant?
Every device manufacturer tries to implement a killer feature that will help the phone sell. Samsung, with its Note line, has the S-Pen, and now with S8, S8 Plus and Note 8, they have the infinity display. The LG V30 has a dual lens camera. The Moto z has Moto Mods. Google Assistant was the Pixel’s killer feature that Google hoped would spark device sales – and it did.
Not long before the announcement and release of Google Pixel, Google also announced a messaging platform, Allo. Within Allo, a web-based chat app with similar features found in iMessage, non-Pixel Android, and iOS users could use a very feature-limited version of Google Assistant. The app could use Assistant’s contextual knowledge, but users couldn’t use it to adjust screen brightness, turn up the volume or trigger actions within other apps.
Now that Google Assistant has been around for a while, it has become much more widely accessible and can be found on a plethora of devices.
New Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2
Google’s recently announced additions to the Pixel lineup – the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL– will feature iterative hardware upgrades to their predecessors, and pack in some new Google Assistant features, too. For starters, these new Pixels have what’s called Active Edge UI which enables you to squeeze the device to summon Google Assistant. With the voice Assistant at the ready, you can use Google Lens to recognize certain objects such as books, movie posters, business cards and also well-known landmarks. Finally, the new Pixel devices, combined with Google Assistant, can identify ambient music playing nearby and display that information on the OLED ambient display.
The Google Home, a rival of products like the Amazon Echo and the forthcoming Apple HomePod, is another home to Google Assistant. Given that the Google Home’s inputs are limited to a small touchpad on top, Google Assistant is the device’s primary control method. The Home has an impressive microphone array built in allowing it to recognize your calls from a pretty good distance.
Google Home has the full range of typical Google Assistant functionality. Placing it in a central location within your house, you will have access to important information such as calendar events, reminders, times, and more. The device also makes a great music companion. You can ask it to play music of a specific genre, an artist radio, or specific songs if you are subscribed to Google Play Music.
At their latest event, Google also announced the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max. Both of these devices pack in the same Google Assistant functions. The Mini, as the name suggests, is much smaller and is great for ancillary rooms in your house such as a bedroom or office.
The Max is a bulkier device. It packs in two subwoofers and two tweeters, offering audio output 20x more powerful than the original Google Home. Similarly to the Apple HomePod, the Google Home Max will also automatically tune the audio to wherever it is placed in a room to make sure you are getting the best audio experience.
Another new addition to Google’s lineup is the Google Pixelbook. The Pixelbook is, for all intents and purposes, a souped-up Chromebook with impeccable hardware design that also sports Google Assistant.
There is a dedicated Assistant key near the spacebar. When the button is held, Google Assistant will present itself, allowing you to type your query. You can also call on Google Assistant with your voice, just like with the Pixel and Google Home devices.
The neatest Google Assistant related addition to the Pixelbook takes advantage of the device’s stylus, the Pixelbook Pen. Using the pen, you can summon Google Assistant and then circle something on your screen to pull relevant information. If you are unsure of a word’s meaning, you can give it a circle and add it to your vocabulary. Same goes for people’s names, businesses, and more.
Google Pixel Buds
Sometimes, you may be out and about, or can’t easily pull your phone out to use Assistant. The Google Pixel Buds aim to solve that problem. With these new Bluetooth earbuds, you can access Google Assistant by simply touching the right earbud and beginning to talk. These are ideal if you exercise frequently, commute on a bike, or anything else where you can’t just simply pull out your phone. With Google Assistant built-in, you can ask to play your favorite running playlist, get traffic info, and more.
The Google Pixel Buds also bring Google Translate directly into your ear. In real-time, one person can talk into the Pixel Bud speaker, and the paired phone will play a translated voice through the device speakers. This works in the other direction as well. The other party can talk into the paired phone, and a translated message will be played through the Pixel Buds. This feature is sure to prove interesting and could be a huge selling point.
Though the Assistant debuted exclusively on Google Pixel phones, it didn’t take too long for Google to release the assistant to the majority of Android devices. As of now, any phone running Android 6.0, Marshmallow or newer has access to Google Assistant. In most cases, it is accessed by long-pressing the home button.
When you’re driving around and need to perform certain actions in your car, such as change a playlist, pause a podcast, or find your way home, voice control is crucial. “Infotainment” systems in modern vehicles have a reputation for being just as distracting to drivers as smartphones, but with Android Auto, Google hopes to solve those problems. If your car has Android Auto support, you can call on Google Assistant using the typical “Ok, Google” command. From there you can get directions, check traffic, see the forecast, perform search queries, control your media and more.
With Android TV, Google Assistant can find TV shows within various apps, search YouTube videos, check the forecast and more. The conversational function of Google Assistant proves very useful here as well, allowing you to filter your searches using just your voice. You can ask for Google Assistant to show you movies starring a certain actor, and when presented with options, specify with phrases like “Show me more information about the second one.” Currently, the Android TV experience is only available with the NVIDIA Shield TV set-top box, but it should be coming to more devices in the near future.
While smartwatches may be reaching a plateau, or even declining, Google Assistant can still be accessed with your Android Wear watch. Your watch will need to be running Android Wear 2.0 or newer to take advantage of this. Here you can do much of the same things as Assistant on your phone, like ask for the weather, general information, what’s on your agenda, and even control smart home devices tied into the Wifi network to which your device is connected.
Nearly every Android phone
The days of Google Assistant being exclusive to Pixel are long gone, as just about every Android phone supports Google Assistant. This includes both flagship and even budget ranges from Samsung, LG, HTC, and countless others.
iPhones via Google Assistant App
iOS users, don’t worry. You can also use Google Assistant on your iPhone or iPad with the Google Assistant app available from the App Store. You won’t be able to take full advantage of Google Assistant’s device control functionality, but you will still have the ability to call up your calendar events, weather information, traffic updates, etc. This version of the Assistant doesn’t work with voice controls, though.
Google Assistant takes convenience to a new level. Smartphones, smart speakers, headphones, watches, vehicles, and more are all enabled with Google’s virtual assistant, which that you always have access to the most relevant information for your day. There are other voice assistant options on the market, but Google Assistant has proven to be one of the worthiest contenders. Using machine learning, Google is continuously improving on the technology, and as the user base continues to grow, it will only get better.
Do you use Google Assistant? If so, on what device most frequently? Let us know in the comments below!