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Google Assistant makeover emphasizes touch interactions on your phone

New look Google Assistant gets touchy-feely.

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Google

Google Assistant is opening itself up to new forms of communication. Starting today, when you pull up Google Assistant on your phone, you'll see extra visuals and new ways of interacting by touch. Google is announcing the changes via a blog post Wednesday as the company prepares for its Made by Google event on Oct. 9.

Rolled out initially as a voice assistant first and foremost, Google Assistant will still respond to the same wealth of voice commands. But with this update, ask about the weather and you'll see large visuals showing your local forecast. You'll see pics of local restaurants when you search for a place to eat. Ask it to turn on your Google Assistant-compatible smart home bulbs, and you'll see buttons and sliders to fine-tune the brightness or color settings.

Most of the changes will apply to Google Assistant built into Android phones and the Google Assistant app on iOS. Android users will get the added benefit of a daily overview if you swipe up once Assistant is activated.

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Google

Google is also rolling out a new set of developer tools so companies can take better advantage of your phone's screen. Starbucks will offer thumbnails of recommended menu items. Fitstar will help you work out with GIFs of various exercises. Third-party developers will also be able to sell you digital goods through voice interaction.

You've been able to shop with Google Assistant for awhile and buy things like groceries through various retailers. These new developer tools will allow companies to sell you things like upgrades, subscriptions and expansions through Google Assistant. Google can verify your purchases with voice recognition, but that voice recognition isn't foolproof, so tread carefully before enabling these kinds of purchases. Hopefully developers won't start locking good voice capabilities behind a paywall.

Other than the possible onset of more paid content, the upgraded Google Assistant looks helpful and it also looks familiar. Google's current smart displays -- the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View -- both have a similar system of using visuals and touch controls to supplement voice interactions. The smart-home controls, weather readings and more from the new mobile Assistant look exactly like they do on smart displays.

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Google must have gotten good feedback on the interactions with these smart displays and indeed, CNET reviewed both positively. The similarity might actually be helpful as you can now interact with your phone and your smart display in the same way without having to learn two different systems. Google Assistant has been a competent voice assistant for awhile, and it's getting better and better with other forms of communication.