Personality-filled, voice-activated digital assistants are everywhere. Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana and Google has Google Now and Google Assistant.
At the moment, Google Now and Google Assistant are still two separate things -- Google Now works from within the Google Android and iOS app, while Google Assistant is found in Google's Allo chat app and integrated into and Google's Pixel phones -- but I suspect these two virtual assistants will merge into one sooner rather than later. Google Assistant is already a major part of the Google Pixel phone, and it's even taken over Google Now's spot as the result of a home key press.
But for those of you who are wondering which is which after, here's a quick rundown:
Google Now is Google's voice-activated personal assistant -- similar to Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana. Unlike Siri and Cortana, Google Now isn't platform-specific; the app works on both Android and iOS devices, though its hardware-controlling capabilities are limited on iOS. The app lets you quickly search the web and perform a variety of tasks -- such as scheduling events and alarms, adjusting your device's volume and posting to social media -- using natural-sounding voice commands.
Google Now is convenient for when you want to use the power of the Internet and your mobile device without actually picking it up -- like Siri and Cortana, Google Now offers hands-free accessibility from the lock screen with the command, "OK, Google." But while Google Now can look up everything you need to know on Google, and access information in your personal Google accounts, it doesn't really get to know you, and that's where Google Assistant comes in.
Google Assistant is basically the next generation of Google Now -- it does most of the same things, plus more, and it has a friendlier, more conversational interface. The preview edition of Google Assistant debuted in the Google Allo chat app and Google Assistant will also be found in the Google Home and integrated into the Google Pixel phone. Google Assistant performs all the same tasks as Google Now: web searching, scheduling events and alarms, adjusting the hardware settings on your device and pulling up information from your Google accounts.
While Google Now is, in many ways, a souped-up, voice-activated Google Search, Google Assistant offers up information in a more conversational and (Google hopes) more accessible format. For example, Google Assistant turns search results into one-sentence answers, and, for a question like "What are some nearby restaurants?" presents information in an easy-to-tap card format instead of a linear Google search page.
Google Assistant also has deeper artificial intelligence than Google Now -- or any of the other virtual assistants, for that matter. Unlike Siri and Cortana, Google Assistant can carry on a two-way conversation with you, learn personal details about you (such as your birthday or your favorite breed of dog) and recall information from previous conversations for context.
While this functionality isn't all that impressive in the preview edition of Google Assistant, Google has high hopes for the future -- an Assistant that knows much more than just your favorite color and that can combine all of Google's powers to do things like plan an event (as opposed to just scheduling one). As Google said during its live event, the more you use Assistant, the smarter it gets.
Google Assistant is already starting to take over Google Now's territory in the Google Home and the Google Pixel phone. When you press the home button on the Pixel, you'll get Google Assistant instead of Google Now; when you say, "OK, Google" to a Google Home, you'll get Google Assistant instead of Google Now as well.