When Google launched Assistant, its artificially intelligent Amazon Alexa competitor, it had hardly any third-party support. Amazon had a yearlong head start, but Google Assistant on Google Home has been superior in offering up results to search queries, as well as following up with contextual searches.
You can ask it, “When does Logan come out,” and follow up with, “Give me showtimes,” and Assistant can understand, without needing you to repeat anything about the film Logan.
Now — about six months after Google Home’s debut — Amazon may still have more third-party skills, but Google Assistant is matching and outclassing Alexa in all its other features. Here’s how.
You can type to Google Assistant on Android — and iOS
Android phones running version 6.0 (Marshmallow) or higher that have the Google app installed can use Google Assistant (as long as they have a 720-pixel or higher resolution screen, and more than 1.5GB of RAM). Around 40 percent of active Android devices run Marshmallow and Nougat, and while not all pass those requirements, it’s safe to say that Assistant is on a lot of devices.
Google just brought Assistant to iOS, which now poses a threat not just for Alexa, but for Apple’s Siri as well. Owners of iPhones now have the chance to use Google’s platform — there’s still a barrier because you can’t use it natively like you can use Siri, but it’s still an option.
You can type to Assistant in the iOS app — which so far has been a prime feature of Google’s Allo messaging app. Say you don’t want to announce a reminder you want to set publicly — you can now just type it up like in Allo. Until now, I’ve defaulted to going to Google Search when I didn’t want to speak out to Assistant, but the ability to type to the Assistant allows me to use it more, improving accessibility. It’s a feature Alexa or Siri have yet to incorporate.
Just last week, Amazon introduced the ability to call and text people through Alexa. The catch? You can only call and message people with Echo devices (or through the Amazon Alexa app). Google just trumped it with free hands-free calling to any number in the U.S.
Google said the new home calling feature with Google Home will use a private number, but you can add your own number via the Home app. It uses your Google Contacts to place calls, and what’s neat is that its recently implemented multi-user functionality means if your wife says “call my mother,” Google Home will know she means her mother, and not your mother.
Google Home has officially replaced the landline, in a non-clunky way.
Amazon also recently unveiled the ability to get notifications on your phone from Alexa — but these are just opt-in notifications that aren’t contextual. It can’t tell you traffic’s getting bad before you head to work, for example. Google Assistant on Google Home can.
Google has already been doing this for a long time via Google Now, but the new “Proactive Assistance” features mean Home will light up in a certain pattern — you can then ask Assistant “what’s up,” and it can tell you about a pressing issue like traffic alerts, flight status updates, and reminders.
Scott Hoffman, Google’s vice president of engineering for Assistant, told Digital Trends that the company didn’t want to offer up audible notifications yet, because it didn’t want Google Home to speak if no one was home (which Alexa will do if you opt in). He also said features like Reminders have been a long time coming because Google wanted to figure out a better way to reach the user. Audible notifications will likely come soon, but Google is wary of overloading users with notifications.
Visual responses with Chromecast
Who needs to buy an Amazon Echo Show when you can get better features with a Google Home and a Chromecast for less money? One of the new updates announced for Google Home is the ability to receive visual responses from Google Assistant — the catch is you need a cast-enabled TV (via a Chromecast or Android TV). This means you can ask Google Assistant to show your calendar, and it will pop up on the TV.
Google will still need to make sure developers jump on this feature to maximize its potential. Amazon’s Echo Show is comparable, and its video calling feature has merits — but you can only video call other Echo Show owners, meaning you have a limited pool of users to engage with in that way.
One of the more underrated announcements at I/O was how you can easily make voice shortcuts straight from the Google Home app. Feeling down? You can ask Google Assistant on Google Home to cheer you up by playing videos of corgis on your TV. Alexa can only do this with third-party integration from IFTTT. With Google, it’s already live in the Google Home app.
There are a variety of shortcuts you can say to trigger actions with the Google Home, and it’s something Amazon really needs to implement natively.
Within six months, Google has caught up and surpassed Amazon’s Alexa with these new features (some of which haven’t rolled out yet). But this is the beauty of competition — Amazon still has far more Echo owners than Google has Google Home owners, Amazon has a growing user base of Prime Video subscribers; Amazon is unmatched in its online marketplace, and the company is continually improving its machine-learning capabilities.
The competition is only going to increase as rumors suggest Apple will release an Echo-competitor, and perhaps Microsoft will follow suit with Cortana.