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Google plans deeper Assistant integration with phones and wireless carriers

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Google is announcing a bunch of forthcoming updates to Assistant today, but one arrives right away: routines, a feature announced back in October that’ll allow Assistant to perform multiple actions at once from a single command you set up ahead of time. It’s a simple concept, but it should be a handy addition for people with lots of smart home gadgets.

The other two announcements being made today will arrive throughout the year: deeper integration between the Assistant and both smartphones and carriers. The first may sound strange — Assistant is already integrated into your phone, after all — but it isn’t yet closely integrated with the specific hardware and software of every device. So in the future, you might be able to say, “Hey Google, launch my camera’s augmented reality mode,” and it’ll open up straight to that feature.

Google is working with Android phone makers to let them add this kind of specific support to their devices. At first, it’ll only be for camera features, but the company imagines it’ll expand to pretty much whatever else its hardware partners can think of. With some phone manufacturers pushing their own smart assistants, it’s possible that not everyone will jump on board with this, but the ability sounds like it should be handy where it’s supported. The first partners will include LG, Sony, and Xiaomi.

In addition to phone manufacturers, Google is also working with wireless carriers to integrate their services with Assistant. At a basic level, it’ll mean letting you check how much data is left on your monthly allotment or even letting you add more data or entirely change your plan. The integration could get deeper, too: Nick Fox, the product lead for Assistant, says Google could support carriers with triple play packages by integrating with things like DVRs, so you can set them to record from your phone.

It’s not clear how much of that will arrive in the near future — it’s not even clear when the first features will launch — but Google says it’s working with carriers to build it out and indicates that those it’s working with are supportive. Fox says this isn’t comparable to built-in carrier apps. Instead, it’s supposed to be a way to interact with those services without having to install something. The first partners include Sprint, Koodo, Telus, and Vodafone.

At least initially, carrier integration won’t be perfectly natural. It’ll basically be like any other third-party action: you’ll have to say something along the lines of, “Hey Google, ask Sprint how much data I have left,” rather than simply being able to ask “how many minutes do I have left?” and your phone automatically knowing you’re on Sprint thanks to your SIM card. It’s kind of odd, because carriers could build these features out themselves if they wanted to, but Google seems to be either doing it for them or closely working with them to make it happen. Either way, these are features that seem helpful to have built in, and I can certainly imagine checking my data plan more often if I could just ask.

In addition to these features, Google also announced some major language upgrades for the Assistant today. It’ll expand to 30 languages by the end of the year, and it’ll eventually be able to automatically detect what language you’re speaking.

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