Earlier this year at its I/O 2019 developer conference, Google revealed that Google Duplex, its AI chat agent that can arrange appointments over the phone, would expand to the mobile web to handle things like car rentals and movie ticket bookings. Mum’s been the word since September, when select users reported seeing a Duplex-powered service — alternatively dubbed Google Assistant on Chrome or Google Assistant on the Web — roll out to their Android devices. But today, Google announced that Google Assistant on the Web is launching in general availability, starting with movie ticket purchasing.
Google says it partnered with over 70 cinema chains and ticket sellers in the U.S. and U.K. including AMC, Fandango, MJR Theaters, Movietickets.com, and Odeon to support purchasing via Google Assistant on Android smartphones. (iOS users are out of luck for the time being.) Searching for movie times from the Google app or asking the Assistant something like “Hey Google, showtimes for Star Wars in Phoenix this weekend” will pull nearby theaters, for which you’ll be able to acquire tickets with a tap of the Buy Tickets button.
Assistant on the Web will guide you through the purchasing process step by step, automatically navigating the theater or seller site to fill in details like payment information saved in Chrome. It’ll ask you to specify things like the number of tickets you’d like, with corresponding fields below a progress bar in a persistent tab, and it’ll react in real time to ensure it isn’t tripped up by discrepancies. For instance, in AMC’s case, you’ll be prompted to first select a seat before choosing a ticket type (e.g., adult, senior, or child), whereas those steps are inverted for Fandango.
Predictably, given the complexities involved, Assistant on the Web won’t always get it right. If it fails to complete a purchase, you’ll receive an in-app notification from Google Chrome indicating the rest of the steps must be completed manually. Google product manager Dan Ritter notes that Assistant on the Web and Duplex are a continual work in progress, and that they’ll extend to other “complex tasks” in the future like booking car rentals.
“With the Google Assistant, you can now use your Android phone to quickly and easily purchase movie tickets on the Web, especially as you start thinking about fun activities for the family ahead of the holidays,” wrote Ritter in a blog post. “This is just the first step on how we’re making it easier to get things done with the Assistant on the Web from your phone.”
By way of refresher, Duplex over the phone, which Google first demoed at its I/O 2018 developers conference in May, first came to a “small group” of Pixel users in select cities last November before debuting on the Pixel 2, Pixel 3, and flagship smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S10 earlier this year. Google rightly received a ton of criticism after its initial Duplex demo in May — many were not amused that Google Assistant mimicked a human so well — and in response, the company promised that Google Assistant using Duplex would introduce itself first.
By contrast, the web flavor of Duplex promises to simplify transactions that are often needlessly complex — albeit by inserting Google services into the process. That might give pause to users loath to hand over their payment information, but it’s undoubtedly less unsettling on its face than a synthetic voice meant to mimic a concierge.