My first order of business at the Consumer Electronics Show today was a press-only chat and demonstration given by Google. We were promised news, information, and a ride! Google delivered.
Let’s get some of the stats and data out of the way first.
In 2018 alone, Google saw a 4x increase in active Assistant users and by the end of this month, Google Assistant will be on one billion devices. Yes, most of those are Android phones, but smart speakers and other IoT products are a portion as well. And given how smartphone sales are stagnating, I’m betting most of the growth is coming from non-phone devices. Google Assistant availability expanded from 14 to 80 countries last year and the number of languages supported is up to nearly 30 from just 8 a year ago. Très bien! Google Assistant also now works with over 1,600 brands and 10,000 devices.
Once we got past the numbers, Google shared its core mantra: The Google Assistant is the best way to get things done. It may not be there yet, but Google is trying to meet that lofty goal with improvements centered around home, in the car and on the go.
To that end, Google is making it simpler for any hardware manufacturer to create an integrated device through Assistant Connect. Details aren’t yet available but this will allow a wider and likely less
expensive range of devices with the computing and processing done in the cloud. One example is a new Lenovo Smart Clock, available this spring for $79. Think of it like the ying to the Amazon Echo Dot’s yang. It has a microphone, speaker and a 4-inch touchscreen but no camera. Alarm times will be suggested based on your daily routines. Google also showed a prototype E-Ink display that gets its data from Google Assistant; there’s no speaker or microphone on it.
Google also showed off a prototype button which can handle your pre-set smart home routines. That’s nothing new in this space, but it’s interesting to see Google possibly add to its hardware line with a product such as this considering, any hardware maker could build the same thing.
In the car, Google Assistant is helping out more with Google Maps. Starting today, you can use your voice directly within Google Maps to share your ETA with a contact. Additionally, voice replies with auto punctuation for text messages, podcast playback, more search features and adding stops on your route are supported in Maps. This seems like a movement of voice services from Assistant to Maps more than new features but it makes sense from a contextual standpoint.
Google also highlighted two new car products from partners. The Anker Raov Bolt (shown below) and JBL Link Drive plug into your car, connect to your phone and include their own noise-canceling microphones to improve the Assistant experience while driving.
Google Assistant gained two new features as well. First is a faster way to check in to flights and find hotels when on the go. United Airlines is the first flight partner while hotel choices include Choice Hotels, AccorHotels, InterContinental Hotels Group, Priceline, Expedia, Mirai (not the bot!) and Travelclick. With just a few voice commands the Assistant can handle flight check-in, get your boarding pass and book you a room.
Lastly is a real-time translation feature for Assistant, which supports dozens of languages. The demo between English and French was spot on although it looked a bit awkward with two people standing on either side of a Google Home Hub. Obviously, you can do this with a phone as well, which will speak the translated words to each party in the conversation.
I almost forgot about the ride. Google set up a cute experience similar to the “It’s a small world” ride at Disney. Only this was a story about how the Google Assistant can help you manage your day, your tasks and anything else that comes your way. Yes, it was just a demonstration of everything the Assistant can do, but it was enjoyable.
All in all, I see the news as continuing the trend of Google trying to get its Assistant everywhere, mainly to compete with Amazon. The latter may have the larger retail brand awareness, but Google has more contextual data, which often makes its digital assistant more personalized and useful. And it continues to do that with voice, which I’ve called the universal, invisible interface for years. So strap in tight as the ride for the smartest, most helpful and broadly available digital assistant races on!