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What is Google Assistant?

It’s official: Google Assistant is coming to all Android phones running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later! But hold on a second – what exactly IS Google Assistant? Our Agents take a look at Google’s Siri-beater.

pixel front back 4_3From their intelligent, ever-learning search algorithm to their strange experiments in teaching computers to dream, Google have been interested in artificial intelligence – but until recently, their AI-powered digital helper Google Assistant has been hard to come by.

If you’re lucky enough to have one of Google’s awesome Pixel phones, you already have Assistant – but otherwise, you may be wondering what it’s all about.

Well, now’s the perfect time to find out. Google recently announced they’ll be bringing Assistant to all Android devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later – an estimated 200 million gadgets around the world.

This is fantastic news for Android users – and today, we’ll take a closer look at what you can expect from it.

What is Google Assistant?

Google say Assistant is “conversational, personal and helps you get things done” – and in practice, it’s essentially Google’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. In other words, it’s an app which lets you ask questions or give commands using your voice, then draws on Google’s vast stores of data and computing power to find an answer.

Once it’s installed, accessing Assistant is easy: you just hold down your phone’s Home button and the app pops up to receive your question. The action will be familiar to iOS users, who access Siri in exactly the same way – and if it ain’t broke, why fix it? You can also call up Assistant by saying “OK Google” – just like iOS users can say “Hey Siri”.

Indeed, the overall feel of the app is notably Siri-like, but Google do seem to have wider ambitions for it. While Siri is a completely phone and tablet-focused app, Assistant can also be found embedded within other apps, like Google’s Allo chat program, as well as in hardware like the Google Home hub.

Interestingly, though, its precise capabilities vary from platform to platform: so the Assistant you reach through your Home button is slightly different to the one in your Google Home. For this article, though, we’re keeping the focus on Android – so let’s take a look at what it can do.

What does Google Assistant do?

Assistant offers two key features: answering questions, and automating certain tasks on your device. Both are useful – but it’s the question-answering abilities that really illustrate the app’s edge over Siri and Alexa.

Google’s search engine has long excelled at providing specific answers to natural-language questions, and there’s as much of that knowledge as possible packed into Assistant – and it’s also able to draw on all of Google’s other services to provide accurate and helpful answers.

google assistant humour 4_3For example, Google Translate is one of the best machine translation services you’ll find anywhere, and it’s completely integrated into Assistant. You can ask “How do you say ‘phone’ in German?” and it’ll let you know straight away. Likewise, it can tap into Google’s vast knowledge of local businesses, weather and maps to provide really useful information.

Indeed, with Google’s arsenal of data behind it, it’s possibly more useful for answering these types of questions than its competitors. Siri may have beaten Assistant to the market by several years, but its feature set was rather threadbare on launch – whereas Google have a great range of features for Assistant from day one.

Aside from answering questions, Assistant’s other big feature is voice control. If you want to be reminded about something at a certain time, you won’t need to mess around with your calendar app – just ask Assistant to “Remind me about homework at 10pm next Sunday”. Likewise, you can use it to dictate text messages, set timers and alarms or open other apps.

But once again, because it’s so closely integrated into Google’s other services, it can go a little further. So you can ask it “What time is my flight to Majorca next week?” and it’ll look through your Gmail account to find the relevant information for you.

All told, it’s a great set of features that could really enhance the usability of your Android phone or tablet – so how can you get your hands on it?

How to get Google Assistant

Because it’s so closely integrated into the Android operating system, Assistant doesn’t really exist as a standalone app, so you can’t just go to the Play store and download it. Instead, it comes as a part of ‘Google Play Services’ – the essential package of apps and features pre-installed on just about every Android phone.

As such, when Assistant is released for your device, it’ll come in the form of an update to Google Play Services, so it’s that you need to keep an eye out for.

As for when it’ll arrive, the update has already been rolled out – so there’s a good chance you already have it! But if you don’t have your phone set to update apps automatically, you may need to pop into the Play store and start the update manually.

Bear in mind, though, that it’s currently only available for devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later. But even if you’re running an older version, you can still get a taste of Assistant’s capabilities in Google’s chat app, Allo – although its features there are more limited.

But if you’re able to get it, Assistant is an excellent and very helpful addition to your Android device – and we reckon it’s going to see a lot of use.

That's all you need to know about Google Assistant – but if you've got any questions, drop us a line in the comments below! And for more great articles from our Agents straight to your inbox each month, get your name down below for the Geek Squad newsletter.

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