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If you got a Google Home Mini, Google Home, or Google Home Max recently, congrats. With Google’s AI-powered assistant inside these and other speakers, you can ask questions about virtually anything, set reminders, get info about your commute to work, go shopping, and control devices in your home, all without lifting a finger.
Home speakers even have features you can’t get with Google Assistant on a smartphone, notebook, or tablet. So without further ado, let’s get to know what you can do with your new AI assistant.
1. Configure custom settings
There are many ways to personalize Google Assistant to meet your needs. You’ll have to start with downloading the Google Home app, which gives you the choice to integrate your Google account and calendar. After that, I suggest connecting the assistant to streaming services like IHeartRadio, TuneIn, Spotify, or Netflix. Virtually everything mentioned in this article, from streaming service connection to choosing a male or female voice, can be accomplished by visiting the settings section of the Google Home or Google Assistant apps.
Once you’ve got your music and movies plugged in, set up Voice Match for unique voice identification.
Google Assistant with a Home smart speaker can be trained to recognize up to six unique voices in order to ensure it shares your information when you ask “What’s on my calendar today?” It can also use your voice signature to remember accounts configured to interact with voice apps or display Google Photos with Chromecast.
After that, you can set up My Day. Every time you say “OK Google, tell me about my day,” you get weather, commute, your next meeting, your reminders, and, if you choose to receive them, news updates. It’s basically Google Assistant’s first shortcut task.
Shortcuts are another great way to customize the Google Assistant experience. Shortcuts are custom voice commands that can be created using the Google Home app. For example, you can program Google Assistant to turn off all the lights in your home each time you say “OK Google, goodnight” or show you pictures of your family from last year every time you say “OK Google, I’m feeling nostalgic.”
Another great way to customize Google Assistant is with IFTTT, a service that can link the AI assistant to more than 300 services. With IFTTT, you can incorporate the apps you use today even if they aren’t already a part of the Google app ecosystem. For example, let’s say you really like Wunderlist, a to-do list app owned by Microsoft. There’s no native way to add items to a list today using Google Assistant, but it can be done if you create an IFTTT applet.
2. Ask questions
Google Assistant is pretty smart. In fact, in October Google announced that the assistant is now able to answer 100 million unique questions, so ask away and see what happens.
In addition to being able to answer questions that draw on Google search, the Assistant can tell you what certain animals sound like or answer questions about the meaning of life.
Google Assistant is also able to translate more than 100 languages. Just ask “OK Google, how do you say ‘Hello’ in Arabic?”
Google Assistant can also answer questions about the latest sport scores, help you cook dinner, and do math for you.
3. Get to know Google Assistant’s personality
Ask Google to tell you a joke or sing a song and you’re interacting with Google Assistant’s personality. The personality team for Google Assistant is led by Ryan Germick, head of the team that has made the doodles seen on google.com for years now. He’s joined by writers from The Onion and Pixar.
You can also ask Google Assistant the kinds of things you would ask any human, like “How old are you?” “What’s the meaning of life?” or “What is love?” Ask a personality-related question and — just as for any other question you may ask — Google Assistant will suggest responses.
Is Google Assistant a human? No. Is Google a multi-billion dollar corporation with a mountain of your personal data whose main objective may be to have you buy things or use its products? Yup. Is it fun to chat with Google Assistant and explore these personality traits? Ah, yup.
4. Listen to music and news
Naturally, playing music is one of the most-used features on smart speakers. In your Google Assistant settings, you can connect with Google Play Music or Spotify as your default music provider. Google Assistant can play music based on a song title, artist, album, or genre, or you can simply say “OK Google, play some music” for personalized results based on your past activity.
In the U.S., there are also more than 100 choices for news from outlets like CNN, Reuters, NPR, Fox News, BBC, and CBS Sports Radio. News is also available in various languages for users in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
Google Assistant can also play you ambient sounds, like the crackle of a fireplace or the sound of a running river.
5. Get to know voice apps
Google Assistant can speak with hundreds of voice apps made by businesses and third-party developers like Domino’s, Quora, and WebMD to help you do things like order a pizza or find out the symptoms for a specific illness.
The directory of Google Assistant voice apps broken down by categories is the best way to get acquainted with these offerings. The directory can be found by touching the blue icon in the top right-hand corner when you summon Google Assistant on an Android device, and in the Explore tab of the Google Assistant app for iOS users.
6. Play games
Google Assistant has voice apps especially made for playing games — like movie or sports trivia or choose-your-own-adventure games.
Ask Google to play Lucky Trivia and Google Assistant will act as your game show host.
In addition to these games, in October Google launched a collection of more than 50 apps or services especially for kids. Children can use them to ask Google to read more than 20 stories, like “The Chef Who Loved Potatoes” or “Little Red Riding Hood,” and to beatbox or play games like musical chairs.
7. Make phone calls and send messages
Google Assistant is able to make free phone calls in Canada and the United States to any business or personal number in those countries. You can also send text messages or have your latest text messages read to you. Placing phone calls with Google Assistant can be a delightfully easy experience. Say “Call a nearby florist” or “Call the Target on Geary Street” or “Call mom” and (usually) Google can connect you to the person you want to speak to with very little trouble.
Even better: If you lose your Android phone, Google Assistant can call it for you. Just say “Hey, Google, find my phone.”
8. Connect with smart devices
Remember when Google Assistant was Google Now? There wasn’t a whole lot of smart home control to speak of back then, but today Google Assistant can work with 150 home automation brands and more than 1,000 devices — like televisions, sprinklers, light bulbs, and thermostats, as well as ovens, vacuums, security cameras, and many others. IFTTT can also help you integrate devices not native to the Google Assistant experience.
Connect your Google Assistant with Chromecast and you can ask the assistant to play content from HBO, Crackle, Viki, and YouTube. Pictures from Google Photos can be requested with natural language if you ask to see images of a specific person or photos taken at a certain time or location. It’s possible to stream live security camera footage to Chromecast, a feature added in October.
You can also assign devices to rooms and make groups of Home devices. Assigning a device to a room allows you to say “Turn off lights in the family room” or “Turn on the air conditioner in the bedroom group.”
9. Go shopping
Earlier this year, Google Home speakers were given the ability to connect with Google Express to make purchases — in much the way an Amazon Echo device is able to order items from the Amazon marketplace. Google Express can take orders from more than 50 major retailers in the U.S., including giants like Target, Costco, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot, as of September.
To shop with Express, you must enter your payment information and your address in the personal information section of the Google Home app. To be clear: You can’t yet go shopping with Google Assistant on your phone or using a pair of Pixel Buds.
You can also make purchases with voice apps from companies like Domino’s to get a pizza or place an order at Panera.
A new kind of shopping experience is also emerging, thanks to new multi-surface functionality introduced this fall. With the eBay voice app, you can ask Google Assistant to show you an item for sale. From there, the voice app asks a few clarifying questions about what you’re looking for and then sends results to your smartphone, where you can peruse the list and decide whether to complete a transaction.
10. Monitor your activity
Finally, if you’re going to have Google Assistant around to check on flight updates or find a handyman or pick an insurance provider with a voice app, you’re going to want a place to manage these requests — to retrace your steps or occasionally delete an interaction. That’s what My Activity was made for.
To see your recent interactions with Google Assistant, tap the menu in the top right-hand corner and choose My Activity in the Google Assistant portion of an Android smartphone or the Google Assistant app on iOS.
Ask for directions with Google Home and they will appear in this space on your smartphone. Same goes for any time you ask “When’s my next flight?” or about events on your calendar.
To stay up to date with the latest Google Assistant features and upgrades, subscribe to the AI Weekly newsletter.
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