If you have an android phone you may have already been interfacing with some iteration of Google’s Assistant for several years. If you’ve ever been too busy to use your hands, but needed information and said “OK Google, how do I get to Sainsbury’s?” or said “Hey Google, show me pictures of kittens” (and who hasn’t!?) then you’re already an experienced Google Assistant user.
Because that’s all it takes. Say “OK” or “Hey Google” and it starts listening for instructions. Google’s language analysis is now well advanced over its competitors and can follow several complex linguistic challenges which any child could understand, but computers really struggle with.
Linguistic challenges include context. Google’s Assistant can ‘turn off the light’, which seems innocuous, but other smart assistants will need to be informed which specific light you mean. Google’s application can also follow a string of instructions, for example ‘OK Google, turn off the lights and put the heating on too’ contains ‘off’ ‘on’ and the word ‘too’ which could easily be mistaken for the number 2. According to machine learning, this is an incredibly hard thing for a computer to understand, and Google’s assistant seems to have cracked it more elegantly than other devices on the market, such as Alexa or Echo.
As well as contextual understanding, it also allows you to have an ongoing conversation, so you don’t have to use the ‘Hotword’ (the spoken trigger that starts these devices listening) every time you want to have the assistant do something. It also recognises different voices, which is great for access to shopping, games and parental controls over adult content.
What Is Listening?
Google’s Assistant listens and reacts via a number of different devices. When you say “Hey Google” a number of different machines will start paying attention, including your phone, tablet, smart speaker, and hub device, provided they’re all synched to the home hub and there’s a good strong WiFi signal. IF you’re not happy about having your home listen to you all the time, you can turn it off and interface via screened devices with a touch of the finger. Even if you’re not especially security conscious, the touch capability is handy if you’re with family and watching TV, there’s a lot of noise and chatter, or you’d rather not let everyone in earshot know what you’re doing.
When you’re interfacing with Google’s Assistant, either by voice, or by touch, you are able to do any number of things, things to occur immediately, or scheduled to happen at a later date, either as a single event, or to occur on many occasions. You can search the internet, your own music and movie library, and you can make notes, create recipes (sequences of instructions which trigger If This Then That devices and other smart devices) which handle mundane routines. You can also add cookery recipes to favourites and get your fridge to help by keeping track of your shopping. You can make announcements and broadcasts around the home, check and add events such as birthdays, doctors and dentists’ appointments, keep an eye on the news, and get text and emails read aloud to you.
Google Knows You Better Than Anyone
As the technology rolls out and is updated, the user interface and intuition of the system will improve, and you’ll find that as you get to know one another better, the functionality will improve. And that’s not even being figurative. Google will get to know you. Through gmail, your google searches, shopping, downloads, friends and contacts, your calendar, where you are, where you’ve been and where you’re planning to go. This is all data you freely share with Google and it helps them to enrich the service that they are able to return to you, personalised and tailored to suit your interests.
Speaking of where you’ve been and where you’re going, because Assistant works on your phone as well as your home hub, you can easily get Google to pull you up a map with the quickest routes, alternatives, traffic updates and directions which take you from door to door, whether you’re driving, walking, cycling or travelling by public transport.
When you compare what Google does against its competitors, this data is invaluable in marking their offering as distinct from other products on the market. Amazon knows what you shop for, but Google gets to know you. So while Google and Alexa et cetera offer similar products in terms of hardware and home hub functionality, it’s their extra features offered by assistants which makes the difference.
Another major difference is the number of products which the service providers have partnerships with. Google has over a thousand different products and businesses in its portfolio of compatibility partners. It doesn’t work well with Apple phones without additional apps, but android phones let you carry assistant around with you wherever you go. Alexa has a phone app, but control over external devices is limited. When you say ‘OK Google’ your android phone, home hub, smart speaker, and tablet all start listening, with Alexa, it’s a much smaller range of goods, including HTC and Huawei phones, Fire tablets and the Alexa smart speaker.