EVERYTHING GOOGLE ANNOUNCED AT ITS BIG SHOW
Google Assistant has six new voices (including one voiced by John Legend!). You can select one of these to make Assistant sound more like a real person and less like a machine. Furthermore, you no longer have to prompt Assistant with “Hey Google” every time you want it to pay attention. After an initial prompt, it can understand when a conversation is continuing and can answer follow-up questions without the wake word. You can also ask multiple questions at once, like “Who is John Legend’s wife and why is she famous?” Google’s also bringing Assistant into Smart Displays, designed to better surface visual information. If you have one of these new screen-bearing devices, you can ask Assistant for a recipe and Google can bring up a Tasty video. Ask to change the temperature, and Google lets you adjust it on the Nest thermostat app.
Don’t freak out, but Google’s AI now sounds… human. One of today’s wildest demonstrations involved a new voice-powered AI called Google Duplex making a restaurant reservation over the phone. The machine voice sounded hyper-realistic, even adding in filler words like “uh” and “mmhm.” Google pitched this as the savior from making your own appointments and reservations. But it could also signal a major moment in understanding what voice assistants can do, and how we should use them in the future.
Like most machines, Google Assistant responds to whatever command you bark at it, as long as it’s prefaced with “OK, Google.” But with a new feature called “Pretty Please,” you need to add the magic words “please” and “thank you.” The feature encourages kids (and adults) to talk to Assistant politely, in a time when there are virtual assistants in more households than ever before. Notably, the new feature comes just as Amazon releases its Echo Dot Kids Edition, a smart speaker specially designed to teach your kids manners at home.
The next version of Android is all about making your phone work for you. An adaptive battery feature predicts which apps you’ll use at what time, and saves juice by reducing app wakeups. The update makes it easier to surface the apps you need based on past habits, and comes with simplified gestures, like bringing up the rotation lock button when you turn your phone sideways. Most importantly, Android P gives you all kinds of new ways to not use your phone: A new dashboard shows you how much time you’ve spent in an app, a gesture called “shush” puts your phone into do-not-disturb mode when you flip it facedown, and a “wind down” mode turns all of your apps to grayscale after bedtime. Those features will roll out when Android P is released later this year, but you can experience it in beta on Google’s Pixel phones and seven other Android devices starting today.