Google’s new voice based virtual assistant is known as the Google Assistant. It is an improved and smarter version of Google Now and will be available exclusively on the two Pixel smartphones and Google Home smart speaker, for the moment. The Google Now assistant will continue to cater to users on other Android smartphones as of now.
However, if you haven’t purchased a Google Pixel phone just yet, you can still get a glimpse of how Assistant works in the Allo messenger app.
How it works
Google Home is yet to roll out in India. So, one way to access it right now is on the Pixel or Pixel XL smartphone. While it activates just like the Google Now, in the background it uses machine learning technology to draw a virtual picture of the user based on his/her queries, responses, and selections. It will keep track of your browser/app history so it can understand your queries better after some time and provide more helpful results and suggestions.
It starts by asking users how it can help. Once a user answers that question, Assistant begins to work its magic. If you have something on your mind, you can ask Assistant what it can do. To the second question, it will respond with a number of options instantly such as the option to set reminders, alarm, make a call, send messages, find what is trending, play games, translate or play music. What is interesting is that some of the actions such as playing games, trending news, translate, recommend a restaurant can be carried out on the Google Assistant page itself. For other, it will redirect user to the specific apps.
What we missed was the option to type commands in Android 7.1 Nougat, as we could in Allo messenger. There are times when you cannot always use Assistant by speaking with it, such as in a meeting. But it is good that it shows suggestions that you can select by tapping on them, which means you don’t have to rely only on voice commands for everything.
How is it better than Google Now
Visually, there is no major difference between Assistant and Google Now. Activities such as making calls, sending text messages produced similar results.
The difference lies in how it interacts with the user. For instance, when we asked Assistant to show something on Doctor Strange, it came up with a number of options such as rating, trailer, plot, all movies on marvel comics, superhero movies, similar movies and show times, while in Google Now we ended up on a search page with links from other websites and showtimes.
What gives a better picture of its capabilities is when you use not so clear expressions with it. So, if you say “I am hungry” on Google Now, it will show up a series of articles, images, followed by restaurants, while Assistant will show the nearest restaurants almost instantly with the ratings. Similarly, if you say “I like movies” Assistant will show a list of all movies that are showing in your neighbourhood rather than wasting time on old articles on movies like Google Now.
In terms of speech recognition Assistant feels a bit more accurate at times. One of the reasons is that it records user’s voice commands to recognise voice and improve speech recognition capabilities.
Though voice based Assistant have been around for a while, it is still not the primary mode of interaction between users and their phone. What makes Assistant by far the smartest personal assistant is that it tries to understand user’s commands better with context and comes with interesting suggestions of its own too. Not only it can save time, but can actually encourage more people to use these personal tools more frequently.