At MWC 2019, that formally kicked off in Barcelona on Monday, Google announced that its smart assistant is going to be integrated into Android Messages “over the coming months.” The Google Assistant button might appear when you’re using the Messages app to text someone, perhaps in the smart replies section. If you tap on the button, you can ask it a question, and the answer will be populated in the text field. The feature, for now, is limited to the English language.
Google also clarified it’s not reading your texts while doing so. It said that the only information that’s sent to the company’s servers is the question you ask Google Assistant within the app. The company calls it “suggestion chips” and they are generated using local analysis of what you are typing.
For instance, if someone asks you to go to a restaurant with them, Google will show a pizza emoji and a ‘yes’, along with a button that searches for the restaurant. Tapping on the suggestion and the Assistant box will show a card with the information about the restaurant and options and one can send the results back to the person they are chatting with. It’s not clear how the Assistant Card will look to the user receiving it. The feature comes after Google formally shut down its messaging app Allo that came with Google Assistant integration. The app is slated to shut down in March and after that, Google’s Android Messages will be the company’s primary texting app for consumers. The Messages app supports SMS, MMS and RCS.
Google also announced that voice typing will be available via Google Assistant on devices running on KaiOS, which is an operating system made for smart feature phones. Google claimed there was a 7x increase in the use of Google Assistant among feature phone users in India, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil in 2018.
The speech-to-text feature will allow feature phone users to populate a text field using nothing but their voice. You need to hold down the Assistant button to type. At the same time, Google also announced it’s bringing Android 9 Pie Actions to Android Go Edition as well as KaiOS. Developers will be able to offer third-party Google Assistant applets in feature phones and entry-level phones. The company even launched an entry-level phone simulator for testing.
"The past year has been an amazing year for Google Assistant and it is now over two years old. It is on over a billion devices in 80 countries and 30 languages. There are some things in the markets that we need to address differently, that is, the things that you can ask to the Assistant are consistent but how we answer them is totally different. We try to answer these queries as locally as possible," Austin Chang, Group Product Manager, Google Assistant told Digit.
When asked if the company is only incorporating the Google Assistant to KaiOS-powered devices, or is helping in the development of the OS, the executive told us that Google has multiple services with Kai like Search, YouTube and Maps. "Wherever they go, we follow. We work with them very closely to make their devices better but we are not working with them at the OS level," he said. "We are here to serve all different types of users, that is, whatever language they speak or whatever devices they type in. You can see KaiOS is going after feature phones which is a very different market. We are here to support any user across the world, no matter what type of device they have and no matter what language they speak."
Speaking of languages, Google also announced that it is also adding support for seven new Indic languages: Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam and Urdu. It is also expanding support for dual-language speakers, which means that you can now switch seamlessly between Korean, Hindi, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch, apart from the already available language support (English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese and Italian).
When asked will Google Assistant be able to understand the different accents of the same language in different countries, and also within a multi-lingual country like India, Austin said that the company tries to be as localised as possible when it comes to accents, slangs and mannerisms.
"The English, for example, is very different in the US, Canada and in India, so we try to bring that same technology and same focus of natural understanding and dialect to all (different places)," the executive added. When asked about the support for Hinglish, Chang said that currently the assistant does not have support for it, "but we are trying are best and are always evolving in more and more languages in the native dialect with the kind of mannerisms and languages that people speak."