UPDATED 12:22 EST / FEBRUARY 23 2018

APPS

Google Assistant goes global and gets new ‘routines’ and device-specific features

Ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, Google LLC today unveiled a series of major enhancements for its virtual assistant aimed at enabling users to automate more parts of their digital lives.

The most notable addition is the introduction of what the company calls routines. These are workflows consisting of multiple actions that a user can chain together to better tailor Assistant for their habits.

For example, it’s possible to have the artificial intelligence turn on the lights, read out reminders and start playing music in response to the command, “Hey Google, I’m home.” The feature is set to launch next week with initial support for six routines.

Google’s goal of enabling multistep actions is shared by others in the virtual assistant market. Microsoft Corp., for instance, recently launched a research initiative focused on enabling its rival Cortana service to carry out multistep commands even when they’re not set up in advance like Google Assistant routines.

Further down the line, the search giant will complement the feature with device-specific integrations from hardware partners. The idea is to take better advantage of the unique capabilities that many modern handsets offer to users. 

According to Google, one focus of the initiative is to let Assistant run the specialized AI chips that can be found in certain devices such as the latest iPhone X. Another priority is to give users the ability to launch and interact with the virtual assistant even when their handset’s screen is turned off.

As part of the same effort, Google will also work with carriers to help them similarly integrate their services into Assistant. The push will allow customers to ask the AI for information about their wireless plans, request technical support and perform related tasks such as buying roaming packages.

Google said Sprint Corp., LG Electronics Inc. and Sony Mobile Communications Inc. are among the companies currently in the process of developing custom Assistant integrations. The search giant will presumably bring additional partners aboard over time as it works to reach more users.

Lastly, the company revealed plans to increase the number of languages that Assistant supports to 30 by the end of the year. Google expects that the move will extend the AI’s reach to 95 percent of Android users worldwide. It might also help put the company ahead of Apple Inc., which currently only provides support for 22 languages and dialects in Siri.

Image: Google

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