For such a ubiquitous presence in our lives, Google has a surprisingly patchy track record when it comes to new software applications.
Google Glass augmented reality spectacles, the Google+ social media platform, Google Notebook… the list of failed endeavours goes on.
However, the search engine giant has also launched or acquired some truly inspirational products and services.
Google Analytics is an exceptionally detailed SEO tool, while Gmail needs no introduction and Google Docs is a worthy alternative to Microsoft Word.
To this list, we should also add Google Assistant, which mirrors the voice-controlled functionality of smart speaker devices like Amazon’s Alexa.
However, there’s more to Google’s virtual PA than simply playing music or setting an alarm.
Here are some of its more advanced features:
- Find a missing handset. This will track down your phone by activating the ringtone, even if the phone is on silent or set to Do Not Disturb.
- Organise a loan. Strangely, Google has an AI loan expert called Leslie, who can find suitable loan providers based on your responses to a few pertinent questions.
- Voice control. Assistant can unlock an Android handset and open third-party apps, which is handy if your hands are full, dirty or otherwise engaged.
- Send and transcribe messages. Assistant can broadcast and transcribe voice messages to connected devices. It can also dictate and send SMS messages.
- Manage reminders. Integration with the likes of Google Calendar and Gmail supports reminder notifications, for yourself and also nominated household members.
- On-the-fly translation. Google offers free translation into 44 languages, either on a sentence-by-sentence basis or as a multilingual conversation unfolds.
At present, there’s no guarantee that an Internet of Things device will automatically work with a particular smart speaker.
The Connected Home over IP protocol will eventually ensure a universal standard exists for smart home connectivity.
In the meantime, Google has negotiated deals with blue-chip brands like Hive, Whirlpool, Vodafone, Just Eat and Trainline, ensuring their apps and services are Assistant compatible.
Being able to check if your train is on time before you leave the house is useful, while being able to verbally order your favourite takeaway is a pleasant if unnecessary luxury.
You can also do this on the move. The Android Auto platform has Google Assistant integrated, as do Pixel Slate tablets.
Many wireless headphones support Google Assistant, while it’s no surprise Wear OS by Google devices are compatible.
Optimising personal privacy
As a rapacious harvester and reseller of online data, it might seem ironic that Google promotes various privacy settings for Assistant.
However, beyond its default settings, you can deactivate personalised suggestions based on web and app history, block app access entirely, or prevent device contact data being shared.
You can delete previous activity simply by saying “Hey Google, delete…” and then specifying previous conversations or activity across a particular time period.