The Google Assistant, formally released this week amid a slew of hardware offerings, is central to Google CEO Sundar Pichai's effort to align the company with what he sees as an epochal shift from mobile-centric to AI-centric computing.
The Assistant is a voice-activated digital assistant similar to Microsoft's Cortana, Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri. It is an evolution of the existing Google Now technology and is the result of the considerable time and money the company has spent on machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies in recent years.
The Assistant is designed to let users interact with Google using conversational speech in the home and outside it, with and without their smartphones and tablets. Unlike Google Now, which is present only on Android and iOS devices, the Assistant will be integrated into the company's smartphones, tablets, Google Home digital assistant device, messaging apps and other future hardware products.
Google touts the Assistant as technology that is capable of understanding the meaning and the context of the queries and the instructions of those interacting with it, and is capable of responding in an intelligent and actionable manner. In addition to smarter web searches, the technology allows users to do things like controlling home entertainment and lighting systems, making reservations, navigating or pulling up information on local weather and news using voice commands.
"The last 10 years have been about building a world that is mobile-first, turning our phones into remote controls for our lives," Pichai said in announcing the new products today.
"But in the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that is AI-first, a world where computing becomes universally available—be it at home, at work, in the car or on the go."
The Google Assistant, according to Pichai, will be a central component of the company's effort to move users to a more natural, intuitive and intelligent way of interacting with computing devices.
The integration of the Assistant with Allo, Google's newly released messaging app, was just the beginning, Pichai said. The company has already built the Assistant into its new Pixel phones announced today and with the Google Home voice-activated digital assistant.
Over the next few years, Google will work on integrating the technology in all of the different places, contexts and situations that people interact with computers. "And that means building the Google Assistant and other amazing software into the hardware that you depend on every day," Pichai said.
Virtual assistants such as the Google Assistant, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa represent a desire by users and technology vendors to evolve from personal to fully personalized computing, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
"Of the four, I believe that Google and Apple are best positioned to succeed, mainly due to their strengths in mobile platforms, devices and services where a lot of related battles will take place," King said.
Google is better positioned to work with open technologies and communities than Apple, a point that should work to the company's benefit in the shift to more personalized computing models, he said.
"This isn't to say that Google is a guaranteed winner, but I believe it's fair to say that it's the company most other players have to beat."