It’s been an interesting month for Apple and its nearest competitors. Last week at the Microsoft Build developers conference, we learned that iTunes is coming to the Windows Store as an app, and now this week we’ve got Google with some big Apple-related news. At their I/O developers conference today, the company revealed that Google Assistant is now on iOS, and that it’ll be coming to many more devices in the near future.
Google Assistant is the name of the digital assistant that was introduced alongside the Google Pixel phone last year. It takes the simple commands of Google Now and infuses them with AI, making Google Assistant more contextually aware — it can better understand natural language, and can make recommendations based on where you are or what time it is. That’s relevant for anyone who has a daily routine and wants their phone to understand that and react accordingly. It’s also important for use with chatbots — the things that make ordering pizza with voice or text commands possible!
That’s a long way of saying that Google Assistant is just like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana. But, Google has gotten very good at AI — thanks to programming expertise and their access to a wealth of data, they’ve been able to make Google Assistant smarter and more useful than Siri. It can also recognize individual voices — not only does that make multiple profiles possible, it prevents other people from using your smart home speaker for nefarious purposes. Google is also rapidly adding the basic features needed to make a digital assistant work properly — today, they announced that the Assistant can now be used to create calendar events and reminders.
But, like we saw when Google’s Android Wear platform came to iOS, Google Assistant won’t be fully functional on the iPhone. For starters, there’s no way to map it to the home button — that will still launch Siri. Google Assistant will instead be stuck on a Google microphone widget at the bottom of the screen. Some functions like setting alerts won’t be possible, either, although it can be used to send messages and control Spotify. That last one is a big deal — incredibly, in 2017, that’s still something Siri can’t do.
Meanwhile, the Google Home smart speaker is getting phone calling capabilities. It’ll now be possible to make calls to landlines and mobiles using voice commands to Google Home, with free calls to U.S. and Canada numbers. It’s not possible to receive calls, and others will see incoming calls from you as from a private number, but it’s the start of what could become a really cool feature in the near future.
Today, Google also announced that they’ve gotten Google Assistant to work with over 70 smart home devices on the market, including popular options from the likes of Honeywell and Logitech. They’ve also opened up the platform to third parties, meaning that a slew of chatbots should be coming soon — that means Google Assistant will soon have a set of skills similar to what Alexa has. Also in response to Alexa, Google will soon add visual responses for Google Assistant. That means you can use Google Assistant to, for example, search for YouTube videos on your Chromecast, which will show up on your TV. That’s like what Amazon did with their newly announced Echo Show, a tablet-like Alexa device.