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25th of May 2017

Technology



You Can't Escape the Google Assistant, Even on TV

Google Assistant on TV

At Google I/O 2017, there were a slew of announcements about the ascendency of the Google Assistant and the continued expansion of Android. But smack between these two was news about updates to Android TV, the space where many of Google's recent efforts overlap.

One of the big changes Android TV users will see in the coming months is Android O arriving on their devices. The new TV homescreen for O moves six content shortcuts to the top, which users can edit and reorder. This is where you'd put the Netflix or YouTube app.

The rest of the page is given over to new channels provided by content producers. Netflix, for example, can put a sample of its offerings in a horizontal scrolling bar. Providers can also create specific channels. In a hands-on demo with Android O, I saw both a YouTube channel and a separate channel for trending content on YouTube.

Content providers create the channels, but users can edit which ones appear on their homescreens and the order in which they appear. A new onboarding experience will give users a chance to choose some channels, such as business or technology news. Android TV O can also detect if you have content apps installed on your phone, and will automatically add those to the homescreen.

Videos on Android TV will also have auto-playing previews in Android O. As you highlight the static images displaying different shows, they begin to play after a short delay. It's certainly engaging, but personally I was turned off by the idea of auto-playing anything.

Oh Hey, Google

This year, Google announced that the Google Assistant will be coming to even more platforms — including iPhones. But Android TV will also be playing host to Google's Alexa competitor. It will also be a wide rollout, coming to Android TV devices running Marshmallow, Nougat, and O. The Assistant will also be available on skinned Android TV devices, like the Nvidia Shield streaming box and even branded cable boxes from cable providers.

On TV, Google Assistant will function much the same as Alexa and Siri on their respective streaming boxes. You can ask it to play movies, perform searches, and so on. The Assistant does bring some more subtle tricks to the TV, however.

Google Assistant on TV

For example, you can continue to have a conversation with the Assistant, and reference previous results. You can ask "What is Stranger Things" and see a card talking about the hit Netflix show. You can follow that up with a second question asking "how many episodes is it?" The Assistant understands that by "it" you mean Stranger Things and it will display the answer. All of this is done on-screen, even while other video content is playing.

I have an Apple TV at home, and I've been surprised at how much more capable Siri on the iPhone is compared to its TV counterpart. The Google Assistant on Android TV, on the other hand, seems to be as capable as ever. You can ask the Assistant how long it will take to get to work while you're watching Netflix, and a card will appear on the bottom third of the screen with the relevant information.

This last point was briefly touched on during the Google I/O keynote presentation. The Google Assistant and the Google Home will soon be taking advantage of nearby screens to present relevant information in response to voice queries. It could push driving directions to your phone or display a weather report on a Chromecast connected TV, for example.

This year's Google I/O was very much centered around the idea of Google being an "AI first" company. Putting the Google Assistant into the company's big-screen experience is definitely a step in that direction, but whether people will change their habits, asking questions about the weather or stocks to a TV, remains to be seen.

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