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May 19, 2017

Google Assistant’s new features transform it from product to platform

by John_A

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Google’s next platform is all about machine learning and natural language processing.

A full year on from its launch at Google I/O 2016, Google Assistant has both expanded to new devices and added dozens of features that truly reposition it as a platform rather than a product. With everything announced at this year’s Google I/O conference, Google Assistant is a common backend of knowledge and capabilities that can be accessed through multiple interfaces on multiple devices with limitless third-party extensibility options.

It’s no longer just Google Home and an app on Android phones — Assistant is going to be everywhere you use Google.

Google Home getting smarter every day

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Assistant can do more than just answer your questions and tell you jokes.

Google Home was originally the physical embodiment of the Google Assistant technology, but Assistant has since expanded to be so much more with Home leading the charge. Not only has the number of app and service integrations hit a “larger than you can recall” number, but Google is leading the charge by giving the Assistant control over an increasing number of Google’s own products and services.

You no longer just talk to Google Home to have the speaker itself do something, but instead to invoke Google Assistant to do all sorts of things that can then manifest themselves on other devices — all powered by the same cross-device backend. Google Assistant processing and smarts let you ask your Home to send driving directions to your phone, shoot a YouTube video to your TV or control an increasing number of smart home devices.

More: Google Home just leapfrogged Amazon Echo at I/O 2017

Assistant on phones finally makes sense

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Google Assistant is a couple of months into its expansion to just about any modern Android phone, but Google I/O 2017 marked an important change to its functionality to make it truly viable and useful to a wide number of people. The biggest change is the interaction model: you can now just type to Assistant. With this being a feature of Allo it was only a matter of time before it rolled out to the Assistant on every phone. Adding text input increases the chances of interacting with Assistant on a more regular basis, lowering the barrier to accessing its wealth of information.

Assistant on the phone is getting feature parity with Google Home.

Another massive barrier destroyed is the Assistant’s move to the iPhone. Argue all you want about Assistant’s seamless integration into Android and how much more powerful it is, but if you want a platform to succeed today it has to be on the iPhone in addition to everything else. Just as importantly, Google Assistant on the iPhone has the same backend powering it as on Android, and within reason it has the same capabilities. Millions more people will soon have access to Google Assistant, completing the loop of using the platform across all of their devices.

The future is bright as well, with the new Google Lens system promising image recognition technology to make Assistant even more powerful. You’ll soon be able to leverage Google’s image recognition and machine learning in a single place — inside Assistant — rather than having the feature spread out across disparate platforms like Google Now on Tap and Google Goggles. Even more important is Google’s expansion of proper “Assistant actions” support on phones — letting you control devices and make device-specific queries of Assistant on your phone the exact same way you can on Google Home.

A platform, not a product

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It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Google Assistant is being positioned as the glue that holds together all of Google’s devices. Whether you’re using a connected speaker, phone, smartwatch, car, or TV device, the goal is to have you interacting with Google Assistant in a consistent way with seamless transition between those experiences.

Functionally there are some hurdles to overcome and features yet to hit critical mass, but it’s clear that Assistant is the future of consumer interaction with Google.

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