Google on Tuesday debuted an updated version of its Google Assistant platform during the keynote of its Google I/O developers conference.
The company said it is internally calling this the “next-generation” Assistant and that it will first become available on Google’s “new Pixel phones” later this year. (Not to be confused with the budget-friendly Pixel 3a phones Google also announced on Tuesday.)
Google is touting significant performance improvements with the updated Assistant, claiming that it can process and understand voice requests “in real time” and deliver results “up to 10 times faster” than its current iteration. The company says this is primarily due to it condensing the AI models used to interpret speech down to a half a gigabyte, which is small enough for them to process directly on a smartphone instead of requiring remote servers.
During a brief demo, the company demonstrated using the Assistant to perform multiple requests in rapid succession. A user will seemingly be able to open apps, set timers, reply to texts, activate the flashlight, browse Google Photos, get a car from a ride-sharing service like Lyft, and do other typical Google Assistant things with minimal wait time or the need to say “Hey Google!” at any point in between.
Another demo showcased the Assistant’s ability to compose and send emails entirely through voice commands. This includes knowing when to delineate between a greeting and the first sentence of the email and when a user is asking to title the subject line.
Interestingly, feedback for these commands appears to be relegated to the bottom right corner of a phone’s status bar, where the “recent apps” button was traditionally placed on Android phones.
Google did not divulge many more details on the “next-gen” Assistant beyond that. It’s not clear whether the feature will only work on a high-end flagship like the next Pixels or if it will be relegated to Google phones alone to start. But the company says it envisions this as nothing less than a “paradigm shift” that makes it easier for people to get around their phones more with their voice. If nothing else, the upgrade is another opportunity for Google to show how advanced its assistant technology is compared to competing platforms like Apple’s Siri.
Beyond all of that, the company said that the Assistant will gain a “Picks for you” feature on smart display devices later this summer that will suggest personalized recipes, podcasts, and “events” when asked. An updated “You” tab in the Assistant’s settings menu should make it easier to update what personal info the digital helper can access as well.
Finally, the company announced that a new “Driving Mode” will come built into the Assistant; it’s activated by saying, “Hey Google, let’s drive.” Driving Mode will include personalized shortcuts and suggestions—think the ability to resume a podcast where it was last paused, links to frequent contacts, or a link to directions for a dinner reservation you may have in Google Calendar—along with the usual navigation, calling, and media options.
This all veers a bit close to Google’s existing Android Auto platform, but having it contained within Google Assistant could be convenient. Google says it will be available “this summer” on all Android phones with the Assistant. Building on that, the company says the Assistant will come to Waze in the coming weeks.