As expected, a lot of upcoming upgrades for Google Home were announced at Google I/O in May. The device, embedded with Google Assistant, was announced at last year’s I/O, and it’s come a long way since then.
Since its launch, it’s acquired 50 new features, such as Google Shopping and step-by-step cooking. It recently started differentiating between users’ voices, a feature that will come in handy with its new hands-free calling ability. And soon, if you ask Google Home to “Call Mom,” it should connect you to the lady you grew up with instead of your mother-in-law. Unlike the case with Amazon Alexa’s calling feature — which doesn’t support third-party devices or ordinary phone numbers, just Amazon devices — you can call any phone number in the U.S. or Canada for free, just by asking your device.
Google Home is also getting some limited notifications, called Proactive Assistance. Rishi Chandra, vice president of product management for Google Home, said it’s starting small, with really important alerts, e.g., if the traffic’s bad and you have a meeting to get to or your flight’s delayed. Users won’t hear the device interrupt — instead, it will light up to let you know something’s happening. Sound alerts may come later, and hopefully you’ll be able to sync it with your smart lights to have them blink when you have an important alert.
In terms of entertainment, Google Home now works with free Spotify accounts. It’s also getting some deeper integration with Chromecast, and will work with HBO Now, CBS, CW, HGTV, Food Network, and more channels. You can also ask Google Home what’s on your DVR. “Everything can be done in a hands-free way right from the comfort of my couch,” Chandra said.
Three months after initially announcing that the smart speaker would be able to stream Bluetooth audio from iOS and Android devices, Google has finally turned this functionality on (for good). Sure, the Google Home has always boasted a Bluetooth chip, but alas, that connectivity wasn’t an option for audio streaming until now. Initially announced at Google I/O, this Bluetooth function was briefly and accidentally turned on in June. But now, it’s working for real for most folks. Those who are reporting the new capability have firmware version 93937, and is shouldn’t matter whether or not you’re in the Preview Program.
Since the smart speaker is screenless, it’s going to take advantage of your phone, tablet, or TV (via Chromecast) to show you visual information. If you want to get directions, it can send them to your phone, even if it’s an iPhone. It will take you “straight to Google Maps,” according to Chandra. Want a better look at your calendar? It can pull it up on your TV.
Google Home is also “invading” more countries, and will be coming to Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and Japan this summer.
Update: Google Home is now able to stream Bluetooth audio from iOS and Android devices.