Rolling back to 2022, what is Google’s Assistant?

The height – what I considered – of an assistant takeover was when “Google Assistant” was listed after Android in the “Operating System” section of the Pixel 3’s tech specs. A few years later things changed and the clear trend for Google Assistant in 2022 is one of stepping back.

Assistant in 2023

This retrenchment was clarified this year after Assistant already had a quiet 2021 (because fundamental progress remains behind the scenes). The first warning sign was the shutdown of Google Wizard Snapshotwhich contained traces of what made Google Now so promising as a personalized, centralized feed that could have information not siled outside applications.

The second was the removal of the “dashboard” from the driving mode of the assistant which – in May 2019 – looked like a major hit by wizard on Android (Auto). It even took a long time to launch and has since been discontinued for a first Google Maps experience.

Pixel 3 specs in 2018

Finally, after more than a year of workGoogle has stopped development of Assistant Memory in June. He was looking to optimize backup content and reminders on Android. This was a good idea as the Google app’s Collections feature is disappointing (with poor UI) and would have been a welcome successor.

Besides the three streams, the important commonality between Dashboard, Snapshot, and Memories was how they all attempted to extend Assistant from its vocal roots. They fell prey to the Wizard brand, but ultimately had nothing to do with Wizard’s base and original skill. Their main claim to being useful was to centralize relevant information, but there’s nothing inherently Assistant about it.

Meanwhile, a report from information in October, explained how Google would “invest less in developing its Google Assistant voice-assisted search for cars and non-Google devices.” It was touted as a focus and experience improvement on first-party Google products, while it comes as the company cuts costs by consolidate various efforts.

The most significant result was the Sense 2 and Versa 4 not including the Google Assistant even after being offered on the previous generation of devices. This is also the case on portable devices other than Pixel and Samsung during launch. That’s wild Wear OS 3 devices with only Amazon Alexa exist. Another “less significant” area of ​​investment would be the Assistant for Chromebooks.

The assistant is no longer…

At its peak, Assistant seemed to be the connective tissue between all of Google’s form factors, if not the primary way you interacted with those devices. Having it be the primary interface on smart speakers and headphones was pretty simple, but then Google tried to provide assistive user interfaces, starting with the smart display. It still seemed like a good idea, but – in hindsight – Android Auto replacement assistant for phone screens didn’t make much sense. Yes, voice input is key to getting assistance while driving, but Google could have left the touch UX to Android.

Another great example of this is how the original callbacks experience, which is to be replaced with Tasks with Assistant integration, had a horrible phone-based user interface for years. Interacting by voice was fine, but it’s unclear if the assistant ever had visual expertise, and it’s best to let existing teams continue this work.

At I/O 2019, when the new Google Assistant that ran on the device was also announced alongside Driving Mode, it seemed like the company wanted the Assistant to be another way to control your phone. There are times when this is very useful, but it will never be the primary method of interaction.

Having lived with this next-gen assistant for a few years now, which has yet to expand beyond Pixel phones, it didn’t change the way I navigated my device, which Google was pushing onstage at one point. given. There’s a touchscreen for a reason and taps will probably be the fastest way to do things for the foreseeable future (to smart glasses). Another reason could be the lack of adherence of apps and their voice control.

If anything, the on-device assistant takeaways were how this work led to Assistant voice input on Pixel phones, and how this technology is best applied to targeted experiences, like transcribing and editing in Gboard.

Where does the wizard go

Among the Assistant announcements made by Google this year, the clear direction is improving the basic voice experience. On the Nest Hub Max, you can now summon the Assistant just by looking at the smart display thanks to the camera feed Look and speakwhile Quick sentences allows you to override “Hey Google” for pre-selected commands.

At I/O 2022, Google also announced how Assistant in early 2023 will ignore “umm”, natural pauses and auto-corrections when issuing a command. As with the two new ways to activate the Assistant, the goal is to make the experience more natural:

To achieve this, we are building new, more powerful speech and language models that can understand the nuances of human speech, such as when someone pauses but hasn’t finished speaking. And we’re getting closer to real-time conversational fluency with the Tensor chip, which is purpose-built to handle on-device machine learning tasks very quickly.

Meanwhile, Google is using AI to improve the accuracy of Assistant smart home commands in three areas.

Natural language understanding is what drives the Assistant. It’s improved a lot over the past decade, and it’s easy to overlook that progress. Of course, that’s because our expectations keep growing and it seemed like the original Google Assistant was trying to do the same with its reach. There have of course been improvements to the core voice experience as the Assistant has spread its tendrils across all of Google’s consumer-facing products, but that seems like it’s trying to do too much, too fast. .

Google’s ongoing challenge is to take R&D out of the lab and give it a good end-user experience. The Assistant may be at the forefront of this for Google, especially as new form factors arrive. However, trying to replace what works hasn’t worked well, but the company is finally realizing that.

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