Google is taking on Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana with its own smart service called Google Assistant.
Google first unveiled Google Assistant at its Google I/O conference in May 2016, pitching the new virtual assistant as an improvement of the experience in Google Now, as well as an expansion of Google's existing "Ok Google" voice controls.
Let's dive into how it works, which devices will have it, and when you'll be able to use it.
Google Assistant: What is it?
Google Assistant is Google's latest iteration of a virtual assistant. It's considered an upgrade or an extension of Google Now - designed to be personal - as well as an expansion of Google's existing "Ok Google" voice controls.
Here's how Google explains its new assistant:
"The assistant is conversational - an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done. It makes it easy to buy movie tickets while on the go, to find that perfect restaurant for your family to grab a quick bite before the movie starts, and then help you navigate to the theater."
For anyone who has been using Android for some time, you'll know that Google Now smartly pulls out relevant information for you. It knows where you work, it knows your meeting locations and travel plans, the sports teams you like and what interests you. This is presented in cards and through reminders. The Ok Google side covers voice searching and device control, expanding to let you do things like send messages, check appointments and so on, like Apple's Siri.
Google Assistant fuses all this together with a new bot-centric AI experience, designed to give you conversational interactions that cover both these areas and a whole lot more.
Google Assistant: Which devices are compatible?
Google has said that Assistant is exclusive to the Pixel smartphones, although it has also said that it's appearing on Pixel phones first, suggesting it will be coming to other devices in the future. As the Allo app works across almost all Android devices and the iPhone, you could say that nearly all smartphones are compatible.
However, the full Google Assistant experience is deeply integrated into the Pixel devices which is very different to the iteration in Allo, which is limited by comparison - as we discuss below.
We'd expect Google to have Google Assistant on all Android, Android Wear and Android Auto devices before too long.
Google Assistant: How does it work?
The thing to remember about Google Assistant is that it is designed to be conversational. That means you can ask a question and then ask several follow-up questions, and Google Assistant will be able to keep track of the conversation, determine context, and audibly respond with the right information.
Here's how Google Assistant works across the different Google devices.
Google Pixel and Pixel XL
With Google Assistant baked deep into the new Pixel smartphones, it's no surprise to find that there's instant access from the home button. Where this home button would once give you Now on Tap with a long press, that's now replaced by Google Assistant.
Long press on the home button and you enter the Google Assistant interface. This looks a lot like Ok Google and can be triggered with the same hot word, with listening bars picking up your voice and instantly transcribing what you say onto the screen. You are then delivered a spoken reply, with results returned on the screen too. You can speak or tap your selections and the conversation continues.
For example, you can ask what you should have for dinner, and Google Assistant will locate local places to eat and serve up suggestions, with cards for a selection of restaurants. Google has further demonstrated this example by then booking a table using OpenTable, something we didn't do.
Google Assistant also takes over things like navigation. Say you want to navigate home - as you would with Ok Google - that still works, but you can also ask to find coffee shops on the way, for example.
Things run much deeper though. You can ask what your next flight is, when your trip is, you can ask to watch a particular programme on Netflix or you can ask to view dog photos from your collection. There's also a wide range of fun options, like games, with a full Google Assistant panel show game hidden behind the "I'm feeling lucky" command. Our experience so far suggests that Google Assistant is going to be huge and as it stands, it's a long way ahead of Siri, Alexa or Cortana.
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Google Home is a connected speaker that also works as a smarthome control center and an assistant for the whole family. You can use it to playback entertainment throughout your entire house, effortlessly manage every-day tasks, and ask Google what you want to know. Google Home is able to do much of these things thanks to Google Assistant, working in a similar way to Alexa on Amazon's Echo.
The idea behind Google Home, however, is to be more integrated into your home environment. The Google Assistant is access with the Ok Google hot word, or by tapping on the top of the Home device.
Smarthome support comes in the form of IFTTT, Nest, Hue, SmartThings, so you'll be able to speak commands, as well as Chromecast support, meaning you can just speak to watch Netflix on your TV, which is really clever.
Like Amazon's Alexa, you'll also be able to ask pretty much anything - weights, measures, check your schedule, book an Uber and so much more. Where this would all be phone-centric in the past, Google Assistant makes it easier to do all of this stuff through Google Home, just using your voice.
Allo is Google's new smart chat app. The messenger has started its roll out on Android and iOS and is designed to give you plenty of options when it comes to chatting to your friends.
Rather than just giving you a straight-down-the-line messaging app, Allo makes chat more fun and interactive. It's based on your phone number - like WhatsApp - and seems to be going after all the popular chat apps, with emoji, stickers, and more.
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One of its hottest features is Google Assistant. Google basically took the virtual assistant and bots as you'd find in Facebook Messenger and rolled them all into one product.
In Allo, you can to ask it questions by either typing "@google" and then asking your question or by using your voice to dictate. Google Assistant then responds. Again, this is all conversational, so you can ask follow-up questions and the clever bot remains contextually aware.
You can ask anything you'd type in to Google Search or Maps, including asking it to find you a place to eat nearby or how many euros are in a number of pounds. You can interact with it by asking it to tell you something interesting, show you something funny, or show a video about something specific, and it all shows up within the chat you're in. You don't need to leave the app.
One of the cool features is the in-chat game. Type "@google let's play a game" and you'll get the option to play emoji based trivia games.
The app also features an incognito mode so that you can make your conversations more private, and even set them to self-destruct within a specified amount of time.
Google Assistant: When can you use it?
You can use Google Assistant right now in the Google Allo app, but as we already mentioned, we expect it will be available throughout Google's ecosystem, sometime in the future.
The Google Pixel phones will be available from 20 October with Google Assistant baked to the core.
Google Home will be launching in the US in November, with no word on when it might be coming to the UK or other regions.