Despite releasing its voice-activated speaker nearly two years after its rival the Amazon Echo, Google Inc. is slowly bridging the gap with the announcement of a host of new features for its Home device.
In addition to new features for Google Home, including hands-free calling to phones, proactive assistance, shortcuts and more, Google also announced at its I/O developers conference that the device will soon be available in more countries.
You will soon be able to buy a Google Home in Canada, Australia, Germany, France and Japan, in addition to the currently supported U.S. and U.K. The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, is only available in three countries, the U.S., U.K. and Germany.
Here’s a look at the new features that will be coming to Google Home this year:
Similar to the Amazon Echo feature, Google has introduced hands-free calling for its Home device.
With the new Google Home calling feature, users will be able to make phone calls in the U.S. and Canada for free, but won’t be able to call other Home devices. Amazon’s functionality is limited to Echo-to-Echo calling and doesn’t allow users to block calls.
Last month, Google introduced support for multiple users on one Google Home account. So when you say “call mom,” Google Assistant will know to call your mom and not your partners.
Proactive assistance will allow the Home device to push notifications, relating to reminders, traffic alerts, flight delays and more, to users. These notifications will roll out over the next few months and will be pretty basic, to begin with.
To avoid being intrusive, the Home’s light ring will start spinning without making a sound when it has a notification. A user will need to say “Ok Google, what’s up?” to hear the alert. It’s unclear how these notifications will work if you have multiple users on a single account.
Schedule new calendar appointments and reminders
Users will now be able to schedule appointments on Google Home and will soon be able to also create reminders. As the same Google Assistant works across your devices you will be able to access the appointments or receive the reminders at home or on the go.
New entertainment options
Google has also announced new entertainment options for Home, including nonpremium Spotify usage, HBO Now streaming (with a Chromecast dongle), Soundcloud streaming, Netflix and more. Google Home also includes Bluetooth support so users will be able to play any audio from their Android or iOS device.
Visual responses from your Assistant
Later this year, Google Home will be able to add visual responses from your Assistant to your phone or TV with Chromecast. You can ask for directions to a specific address, what’s currently on YouTube TV or an image of your schedule and Google Home will be able to display it on your phone or TV.
The Google Home app now features customizable user-defined shortcuts for Assistant. Shortcuts will allow users to set up verbal shortcuts, like “workout time” or “good night” to trigger multiple app commands and devices with a single command.