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Everything you need to know about Google Assistant

Julian Chokkattu

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Google Assistant is getting smarter than Google Now ever was. Not only does the service support more than one language, but it also will soon feature more robust third-party integration, meaning that it can help you control your entire digital life — not just your Google life.

Assistant is similar to Google Now in that it allows you to ask questions and get answers. Not only that, but the service goes beyond just the messaging Allo app — it’s also now featured in Google Home, Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo. And, of course, it’s also found in all kinds of Android smartphones that run Android Marshmallow or Nougat.

More: New Google Assistant app may let you type as well as talk

Google Assistant won’t come to tablets

If you’re a tablet user, brace yourself for some bad news: Google has confirmed that Google Assistant will not be coming to tablets — at least not anytime soon.

Google didn’t say exactly why it won’t bring Assistant to the tablet, instead choosing to stick to the script of telling us Assistant is currently rolling out to phones running Android Marshmallow or higher.

“The Assistant will be available on Android Marshmallow and Nougat phones with Google Play Services, this does not include tablets,” said Google in a statement to Android Police.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean tablets won’t ever get Assistant — rather it just means that this current rollout doesn’t include tablets. So, you could still find yourself with an Assistant-enabled tablet in a year or so. At this point, however, don’t get your hopes up.

Google Assistant could be coming to the iPhone

Google Assistant is currently rolling out to all kinds of Android smartphones with Android Marshmallow and Nougat — but the digital assistant could be coming to Apple’s iOS as well. The news comes from Dutch blog Geekster, which recently interviewed Gummi Hafsteinsson, the product manager for Google Assistant. While Hafsteinsson didn’t directly say that an iOS version of Assistant was in the works, he certainly hinted at it.

“I do not think we have anything to announce at this point,” said Hafsteinsson in the interview. “But I think the general philosophy is that we would like to have the Assistant available to as many people as possible.”

It will certainly be interesting to see what an iOS version of Assistant looks like. Microsoft’s Cortana has been available on both Android and iOS for some time now, however the service has had a hard time gaining a large user base. Could Assistant be the digital assistant that gains popularity on an operating system other than its own? Only time will tell.

Google Assistant can now take screenshots

While you still can’t ask Google Assistant to take a screenshot, the feature to share one of the screen you’re on is now available. On Android devices that aren’t the Google Pixel, pressing and holding the home button brings up Screen Search, formerly called Now On Tap. Screen Search also has an option to take and share a screenshot.

This method is easier than the traditional method of holding down the volume down and power button to take a screenshot — it also cropped out the navigation buttons and status bar out of the image for you.

Since Google added the Assistant on the Pixel, Screen Search has been available, but the screenshot option wasn’t. Now, when you press and hold the home button and swipe up, you’ll see an option to “Share Screenshot.” This screenshot, like the method on non-Pixel devices, crops out the navigation and status bars.

It doesn’t seem to work on your home screen, so you’ll need to rely on the traditional screenshot method. Still, the addition is a solid option for people who want to take a cropped screenshot with one hand. It’s too bad you can’t ask the Assistant to take a screenshot yet.

Google Assistant is coming to Android TV

Assistant is set to be a part of the entire Google ecosystem, and that means on all kinds of Android-powered devices. While Assistant is already available on Android phones, it’s now coming to Android TV, too. And that’s not just with first-party apps either. According to Google, you’ll be able to make commands like “Play Stranger Things on Netflix,” or “Tell me about Jurassic Park.” You’ll even be able to control other areas of your smart home with commands like “Dim the lights” — perfect for when you want to watch a movie.

Don’t expect this to be the last place Assistant shows up either — the service will soon make it to Android Wear, likely through the Android Wear 2.0 update.

The first Android TV device to get Assistant is the new Nvidia Shield, but it will also come to other Android TV devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow and Android 7.0 Nougat in coming months.

Google Assistant commemorates the holidays with seasonal responses

Google has gotten into the holiday spirit. It took the wraps off Santa’s Village, a collection of Christmas-themed games for iOS and Android devices, in early December. It hosted holiday-themed coding games for Computer Science Education Week. And now, it’s added holiday Easter eggs to the Google Assistant.

Here are the ones we’ve discovered so far:

  • Google’s Santa Tracker, a long-running collaboration between the search giant and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), has been integrated into the Assistant. Asking “Where’s Santa” or “Track Santa” provides Saint Nick’s latest coordinates.
  • Asking the Google Assistant “tell me a Santa joke” or “Santa joke” plays a random Santa-themed joke narrated by “Santa.” Our favorite so far: A child asks Santa where the money in a snow bank’s kept.
  • Google Assistant can “spin the dreidel.”

Google Assistant has a childhood

According to a report from Fast Company, Google wants to give Assistant a back story. The search giant has enlisted the help of Google Doodle head Ryan Germick, as well as ex-Pixar animator Emma Coats, to give Assistant a personality. There’s now a job listing for a creative writer that will work on the Assistant’s story.

“Content will include a range of interactions, such as dialogue and instructions and will be delivered through various Google products,” according to the listing, which requires applicants to be able to speak and write fluently in one of the following languages other than English:  French, Italian, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Mexico), Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Hindi (India), Bahasa Indonesia. It’s clear Google is trying to bring Assistant to these countries first.

More: Google to show off new Pixel phones, Android and Chrome OS merger, on Oct. 4

Coats describes working on Assistant as working on a “character,” the same way she would over at Pixar. Part of that means giving Assistant a childhood, allowing users to relate to it as if it actually had a life. Not only that, but the team is experimenting with ways to build trust between the user and Assistant by making it seem vulnerable every now and then as if it needed the user.

This is not available yet in the Assistant in Allo. If you ask for its story, Assistant responds with, “I’m still on the very first chapter.”

Google Assistant will feature third-party integration with Actions by Google

“Think of the assistant — we think of it as a conversational assistant — we want users to have an ongoing two-way dialogue,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at I/O when the feature was first announced. Of course, part of offering an ongoing conversation is being able to carry on that conversation with other apps and products.

More: Say Allo! Google’s latest messaging app is here, and it’s smarter than iMessage

Google Assistant will soon feature more third-party integration through “Actions on Google.” These “actions” are basically ways for developers to build Google Assistant integration into their apps and services. That way, you can ask Assistant to order you an Uber or reserve a table via OpenTable.

Now that the Google Assistant Developer Platform has opened up, some of these integrations have now begun to go live. There’s now a new “Videos and Photos” section available in the Google Home app’s Assistant settings, which allows you to link your Netflix account and enable or disable a Google Photos integration. Android Police was the first to spot this addition, though the publication also noted that upon trial, entering Netflix credentials did not work, suggesting that the integration is still being worked on. All the same, it’s something to look forward to.

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Sometimes, when a user asks Google Assistant a question, the service will be able to simply respond with direct actions. Other times, however, conversations will need to take place — for example, if you ask Assistant to book a table at a restaurant through OpenTable, it will need to ask how many people in your party and what time you want the reservation.

You can already see the landing page for Actions on Google, but you can sign up for notifications on news and updates for the service.

Google Assistant has limited language support

The AI can currently respond in English, but it can also bring up translations from Google Translate.

More: Google Allo is now available in Hindi for users in one of its fastest-growing markets

Google has plans to expand to more languages. Recently, the company announced that Assistant in Allo can respond in Hindi and offer Smart Replies in the language as well. Smart Reply lets you quickly respond to messages with a tap, and the responses adapt to the way you talk the more you use Allo.

Article originally published in May 2016. Christian de Looper contributed to this report. Updated on 03-16-2017 by Christian de Looper: Added news that Google Assistant isn’t coming to tablets.