If Google’s gigantic “Hey Google” CES 2018 booth hasn’t convinced you that it is deadly serious about stopping Alexa’s path toward owning the smart speaker space, how about this: today it’s announcing that the following companies are making speakers that include the Assistant: Altec Lansing, Anker Innovations, Bang & Olufsen, Braven, iHome, JBL, Jensen, LG, Lenovo, Klipsch, Knit Audio, Memorex, RIVA Audio, SōLIS, and Sony.
Four of those names in particular are more interesting — JBL, Lenovo, LG, and Sony — because they’re producing Google Assistant speakers with something new: a screen. Google says these speakers will be available in the summer.
Google isn’t talking much about the full technical details of what that screen can do, but it’s not just going to be an Android tablet slapped onto a speaker. Instead, it’ll be a full voice interface that just happens to also be able to display stuff — just like the Echo Show. It’s technically running on Android Things, a variant of Android that’s custom-designed for IoT.
You won’t be able to run Android apps on it, it’s basically a web-like view that just sits on top of Android Things. It presents its answers in a card-like interface — though based on what we’ve seen so far Google hasn’t totally fleshed out how everything will work for every question. It seems close to ready, though. Which probably helps to explain why these speakers are coming later this year, not right away.
Unlike the Echo Show, it’ll obviously work with YouTube. The news that Google is pushing a bunch of its own smart displays puts that stupid fight with Amazon in a stark new light.
As you can see in the video above, Google Assistant on smart displays can do a ton of the traditional assistant stuff: show you your photos and calendar, give you directions, recipes, and do video conferencing. (It just uses Duo and not another new messaging app, thank god.) That’s all great if you’re a Google services user, but third-party support is on the way, too. That won’t arrive until later this year, but we’ve seen some early examples of Nest Cam running on Lenovo’s own Smart Display.
Speaking (pardon the pun) of taking on Alexa, Google has recently begun putting a finer point on the “actions” that the Google Assistant supports. That’s the Google version of Alexa “skills.” Before now, Google was trying to make using its Assistant a little more like using Google search on the web. Just ask it anything and it will try to figure it out. That hasn’t changed, but the company is more willing to talk numbers of specific actions now (more than “a million”) and making an online directory to browse them.