Hey Google, Where Was the Google Assistant at I/O?



Google I/O, the corporate’s annual developer convention, could be summed up in two phrases: Artificial Intelligence. From new instruments that provide help to write drafts or manage information in Google Docs and Sheets to “supercharged” search outcomes, AI was all over the place at Google I/O.

What we did not hear a lot about, nevertheless, was the Google Assistant — the corporate’s clever voice-enabled helper that is been a key a part of its core merchandise over the past seven years. Though the Assistant is inherently completely different from the instruments and companies Google showcased at I/O, it shares the identical underlying objectives, like conjuring solutions which can be extra helpful than typical search outcomes and caring for sure duties in your behalf.

The Assistant has served because the clever thread connecting a lot of Google’s services and products collectively, from its Pixel telephones and watch to its Nest audio system and even your automobile. But when Google’s I/O presentation is indicative of its future technique, the corporate is infusing extra of its particular person merchandise with AI somewhat than counting on the Assistant because the good layer that unites all of them. 

When Google launched the Assistant at the exact same convention in Might 2016, it positioned its digital helper as the way forward for search. “Persons are more and more interacting naturally with Google, and are not simply on the lookout for the world’s data however truly anticipating Google to assist them with their every day duties,” reads a 2016 Google weblog submit from Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai introducing the Assistant.

The Google Assistant wasn’t nearly developing with a solution to Siri or Alexa; new merchandise had been constructed round it. Google House good audio system had been developed as voice-first options to Amazon’s sprawling Echo empire. Google additionally flaunted its authentic Pixel telephone as the primary telephone with the Google Assistant built-in. Voice Assistants like Amazon’s Alexa had been starting to permeate the cultural vernacular round 2016 and 2017, making appearances in Tremendous Bowl advertisements and on Saturday Evening Reside.

At CES 2018, the Assistant was all over the place as Google introduced a slew of partnerships that put its ambient helper in merchandise from Lenovo, LG, JBL and others. Google’s sales space on the present was primarily an interactive commercial for the Google Assistant, underscoring the corporate’s imaginative and prescient for a voice-first future on the time.


Google’s sales space at CES 2018 was all in regards to the Google Assistant.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It did not cease there. Wi-fi earbuds, which initially caught on as a extra handy strategy to take heed to music and podcasts, began to middle on digital assistants. Arms-free Siri entry was one of many headlining options of Apple’s 2019 AirPods, and Amazon launched its personal AirPods rival referred to as the Echo Buds that very same yr as a quicker strategy to entry Alexa on-the-go.

The Google Assistant has historically been a serious focus throughout Google I/O, the place the corporate not solely reveals off developer instruments however lays out the imaginative and prescient for its merchandise. Finally yr’s Google I/O, for instance, it introduced a function that allows you to activate the Google Assistant on the Nest Hub Max simply by taking a look at it. 

Taken collectively, these developments painted an image that digital butlers had been going to be the brand new means we search the web and work together with the rising variety of tech gadgets in our lives. 


Google’s Bard took the highlight at Google I/O.

However seven years after the Google Assistant’s debut, the tech panorama appears completely different. The division that oversees Alexa product growth was impacted by Amazon layoffs final yr, though the corporate’s {hardware} chief Dave Limp advised CNBC it stays “absolutely dedicated” to Alexa. 

Google reportedly reorganized its digital assistant workforce to focus extra on its Bard generative AI chatbot, in keeping with CNBC. Google additionally stopped offering software program updates for sure third-party good show fashions from Lenovo, JBL and LG. Some voice assistant customers have additionally grown involved about privateness and annoyed when a digital helper like Alexa by accident delivers the unsuitable reply, in keeping with experiences from the BBC and the Washington Publish.

In response to CNET’s request for remark, a Google spokesperson mentioned the Assistant is a prime precedence for the corporate. 

On the similar time, one thing surprising occurred in late 2022. A seemingly higher strategy to retrieve solutions on the net emerged: ChatGPT. The web chatbot, run by OpenAI, rapidly caught on as a result of it may go a step past simply answering questions. As an alternative of simply asking for weight loss program suggestions or exercise concepts, it may plan your weekly meals and provide you with an train routine. ChatGPT and different merchandise prefer it use generative AI, or AI that may create content material primarily based on prompts, to provide you with such responses.

It felt much more subtle than asking Google or Alexa to summarize a information article or flip off your lights, and tech firms rapidly took discover. Google and Microsoft (the latter of which missed out on the voice assistant increase) wasted no time injecting their merchandise with generative AI in 2023. 

It is these efforts that had been on full show at Google I/O, as the corporate showcased the way it will use generative AI to boost your textual content messages, generate pictures to match the textual content in your Google Slides presentation and summarize your newest e-mail thread in Gmail.  

That is to not say the Google Assistant is not current within the firm’s upcoming merchandise. In truth, it is the other. The brand new Pixel Pill turns into a sensible speaker when docked, which means many individuals will possible be utilizing voice instructions to work together with it. The Pixel Fold can translate speech utilizing each the outer and internal display, which ought to make it simpler to talk with those that converse a distinct language. And a part of what makes Google’s Pixel telephones stand out within the first place is their Assistant-powered options, like the power for Google to attend on maintain for you.

However regardless of all this, the Google Assistant barely got here up throughout what would be the firm’s greatest occasion of the yr. Whereas that is stunning given Google’s massive concentrate on AI, maybe it is a signal that the Google Assistant has matured. It is only a native a part of Google’s merchandise at this level and due to this fact wants much less stage time. 

Now, it is generative AI’s flip to take the highlight.