Google’s aptly named AI helper, Google Assistant, is poised to have a great year in 2019. Not only will the digital assistant be spreading to numerous devices old and new, but there are a host of new features coming, too, several of which were shown off at CES 2019 last week.
This list of upcoming Google Assistant updates is long, and it can be overwhelming trying to parse out all the different announcements and keep track of when these new features will finally be available. To help, we’ve curated a rundown detailing the best and most important updates coming for Google Assistant in the next few months, including what devices these new features have been announced for, their expected release dates, and how to enable them (when available).
By far, the most hyped new Assistant feature at CES was the Interpreter Mode. Interpreter mode will expand Google Assistant’s already existent bilingual functionality by offering real-time translation from one language to another on the Google Home Hub smart display, acting as an interpreter between two parties who otherwise don’t speak the same language(s).
This might sound similar to Google’s previous attempt at real-time translation on the Pixel Bud wireless earbuds, but Interpreter Mode is a much more elegant execution on the concept.
Voice commands like, “Hey Google, help me translate” will activate Interpreter mode on the Google Home Hub. As long as the language is supported, Google Assistant will automatically recognize the language being spoken. Any speech it hears will then be translated through the Google Home Hub’s speakers and transcribed on the device’s screen. The feature will launch with 27 supported languages:
Hands-on reports of Interpreter Mode have been mostly positive, but it’s not perfect. The delay between the participants speaking and the device translating is just long enough at this point that it makes the interactions slow and slightly awkward. And depending on ambient noise level and clarity of speech, sometimes Google Assistant will mishear a word or two. Thankfully, Google has some time to fine-tune things before the full roll out.
Interpreter Mode is being beta tested at select hotels in Las Vegas, New York, and San Francisco for now, but Google says the feature will be available to consumers on Google Home Hub within the first few months of 2019 and will roll out to other smart home display devices soon after.
Google Assistant will now be adding punctuation to sentences automatically—no settings to enable or special voice commands required.
The AI helper will recognize when to add proper punctuation—such as commas, periods, and question marks—based on context, the tone and cadence of your voice, and pauses/breaks, meaning you no longer have to say the word “period” when you want to add one while dictating a text message. However, because of this, it’s probably smart to train Google Assistant to recognize your voice, which we conveniently have a guide for.
Punctuation mode is currently available on all Google Assistant-supported devices—just be sure you’ve updated your device’s OS and the Google Assistant app (Android, iOS).
Google Assistant is now integrated directly into Google Maps—even on devices that would otherwise not have native Google Assistant support, such as iOS devices.
Google Assistant adds new functionality to Google Maps, such as letting users share their arrival times, reply to text messages via voice, control music and audio playback, perform searches with voice commands, and make phone calls all within the Google Maps app.
The Maps version of Assistant also has a unique interface that was developed with driving in mind, meaning it’s almost entirely hands-free and uses easy-to-see on-screen elements so you can keep your eyes on the road.
An update containing the Assistant-integrated version of Google Maps began rolling out in December last year and is now available on both Android and iOS devices (though iOS users will have to download the Google Maps app, if they haven’t already). If you haven’t updated your Google Maps app, you can do so via the app’s page in the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.
Originally only available on Pixel 3 handsets, lock screen access allows users to call up Google Assistant via the “Okay, Google” command, even when your device is locked—though the functionality is limited when using Google Assistant this way, only allowing users to check on personal results from their Gmail inbox (or other connected email accounts); Google calendar; saved contacts; and memory aids like event reminders and shopping lists you’ve created. Certain commands will also require you to unlock the phone in order to get Assistant’s response.
While the announcement promised that the feature will be rolling out to more Android devices over the coming months, no specific devices or release windows were given. That said, regardless of which devices eventually receive the update, it’s worth noting that Lock screen access has to be turned on in the Google Assistant settings menu. Here’s how to do so on a Pixel 3 handset (and we can safely assume this will be largely similar on devices that support lock screen access in the future):
Google Assistant will also take some of the stress out of travel when the new flight tracking and boarding pass features launch in the coming months.
Users will be able to perform pre-flight check-in, security screening, and check luggage through their phone’s interface, after which they will be then be presented with a boarding pass directly on your device.
Technically these features are available now, but only in a limited capacity for domestic US flights on United Airlines. While this is an obvious maneuver to compete with Apple’s Wallet boarding pass features on iOS, Apple Wallet has been around longer and supports far more airlines, so it’ll take some time for Google Assistant to be truly competitive here. Google has not made any concrete public plans for when users can expect more airlines or international flight support.
Not only will you be able to lean on Google Assistant for your flight plans, but Google Assistant can also now handle your hotel bookings, too. You’ll be able to ask Assistant to find nearby hotels, pull up listings for specific dates, and book rooms through Choice Hotels, AccorHotels, InterContinental Hotels Group, Priceline, Expedia, Mirai, and Travelclick. This is available now for US users.
We’re only a few weeks into the year so this is by no means a comprehensive overview of every Google Assistant update or feature to expect in 2019. And Google is projecting that 1 billion devices will be running some version of Google Assistant by the end of the January, a figure that covers nearly 10,000 products from over 1,000 brands, with Samsung, Lenovo, Anker, JBL, Kitchenaid, Sonos, McAfee, and many others adding to the list in 2019. We expect to hear plenty more about the AI helper in the coming months and will make sure to keep you updated on how to use the best new features.