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As Android’s nav bar fades, dedicated Google Assistant buttons are on the rise

Nokia 4.2
HMD Global’s Nokia 4.2 Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Google Assistant is present on almost all Android phones now, but more devices are going to get a dedicated hardware button you can use to access it. The announcement, which Google made at Mobile World Congress 2019, comes after we’ve already seen some of the new phones with the dedicated button.

The first phone to feature a dedicated button to access Google Assistant was the LG G7 ThinQ last year. Most Android phones can access Google Assistant by holding down on the home button, but as Google and other manufacturers start to move away from using the traditional Android navigation keys in favor of new gesture controls, a new way to access Assistant is not just beneficial, but necessary.

New phones with the dedicated button will come from the likes of HMD Global, with the Nokia 4.2 and Nokia 3.2, and LG, with the G8 ThinQ as well as the midrange K40. Xiaomi is also a partner, so the Mi Mix 3 5G and Mi 9 will have the button, and so will Vivo’s V15 Pro. TCL is also on the list, but Google said its device will come later this year. BlackBerry, which is under the TCL brand, already has an extra button you can remap to use Google Assistant, so it’s not a stretch to see something similar on Alcatel devices (also under the TCL brand). With all these partnerships, Google said it expects more than “100 million devices to launch with a dedicated Google Assistant button.”

The single button offers three ways to use it. A single tap launches Google Assistant, letting you quickly ask it questions — from Google queries to what’s next on your calendar. A double tap will open Visual Snapshot, which is sort of a hub with curated information about your day, that varies based on time of day, location, and your recent interactions with the Assistant. Then you can long-press the button to trigger a Walkie-talkie feature, so Assistant will listen for a full query, which Google said is ideal for when you want to send an email or long text messages.

The big question is whether you will be able to disable or remap the Google Assistant button to do something else if you don’t use the voice assistant much. Currently, LG lets you disable the button on the G7 ThinQ, but there’s no option to remap it. It’s the same qualm people have with Samsung’s Bixby button on its Galaxy smartphones.

As smartphones continue along the bezel-less trend with gesture navigations to interact with the operating system, we’re also seeing a small push to eliminate physical buttons in favor of haptic ones as well. It’s interesting to see a new physical button on the phone becoming more prevalent, and it only shows the speed at which artificial intelligence assistants are growing. Soon it may be commonplace to expect a dedicated A.I. button on phones as you would the power button or volume rocker.

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