Lenovo tablet with Ambient Mode

Google Assistant Adds Visual ‘Ambient Mode’ and New Devices

Google Assistant announced that it will integrate across a wide range of new products at the IFA tech expo in Berlin on Thursday. The voice assistant also debuted Ambient Mode, a new way for users to interact with their smart devices without needing to unlock their phones.

Google Assistant Ambient Everywhere

The new Ambient Mode is a visual display on mobile device lockscreens. The basic idea is to turn a mobile device into a smart display when it is plugged in and charging. Switching the phone to Ambient Mode sets Google Assistant to listening for its wake word without having to unlock the phone or press any buttons on the device. The phone screen will display notifications and allow users to turn on music or control any connected smart home devices as though they had a Google Home. Once the task is complete, the screen becomes a personalized photo screensaver using pictures from the owner’s Google account.

Not every Google Assistant-enabled mobile device will have Ambient Mode yet. The Nokia 7.2 and 6.2 will have it, as will the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab and the not-yet-released Lenovo Smart Tab M8 HD.

Google Assistant is also partnering more closely with the WhatsApp messaging service. Along with dictating and reading aloud messages, people with WhatsApp on Android can make and join video calls with a command to the voice assistant to “WhatsApp video” a contact.

Smartphones are Not Optimized for Far-Field Use Cases

While this new ambient mode will, in theory, mimic the functionality of a smart speaker, it will still rely on near-field microphones common to smartphones which are optimized for use within a few feet of the device and not necessarily from across the room. It also won’t have the noise canceling and anti-collision algorithms common to smart speakers and a smaller speaker that may not be easy to hear at a distance.

Google Assistant from Ambient Mode smartphone may still work in many use cases but it will not be as forgiving or robust as current smart speaker offerings. So, there will still be a rationale for acquiring smart speakers. User experience is sure to be better on smart speakers for ambient interactions. However, one of Google’s biggest strengths is its smartphone installed base. Ambient Mode will further extend the utility of Google Assistant on smartphones and that seems like a logical incremental benefit.

Assisting Every Device

Google Assistant is already integrated with, or an option for, a whole host of home and mobile devices. The voice assistant will now be part of a lot of the new devices announced at IFA this year.

The Sonos Move mobile speaker announced at IFA will include Google Assistant as an option for a voice assistant, as will its rival, the recently announced Bose Portable Home Speaker. The voice assistant will also be included in new smart headphones from JBL, Bose, Phillips, Sony, and others. Closer to home, all of the major brands building smart home devices including washing machines, refrigerators, sound systems, and televisions announced new products that support Google Assistant.

Google’s partnership with Lenovo, in particular, will bring Google Assistant to new homes. Lenovo announced the new Smart Display 7 this week at IFA. A redesigned version of Lenovo’s earlier products, the Smart Display 7 is a little smaller and easier to fit on a shelf. Simultaneously, the even smaller Lenovo Smart Clock, which debuted in the U.S. earlier this year, is adding a half-dozen new European countries to its market. Google Assistant is more widespread than ever, but it’s rivalry with Amazon Alexa and other voice assistants will only get more competitive. The new products simply extend the battlefield with the help of new allies.


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