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Google wants to own the smart home market. So on Tuesday it unveiled a handful of features and partnerships aimed at getting people to use its Google Assistant digital helper software more around the house.
The search giant made the announcement in Las Vegas at , the world's biggest tech conference, where it's in the last few years to try to give the Assistant a leg up against Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri.
Here's what Google announced:
Scheduled actions: One new feature lets people schedule certain tasks. For example, if you have an internet-connected washer or dryer, you'll be able to schedule a load of laundry. If you have a smart coffee maker, you can time it to brew a pot at 6 a.m.
Leave a note: Google says it wants people to use their smart displays like a digital chalkboard. It unveiled a simple feature that lets people leave notes on the screen for others in the house to see. The feature is like a less formal version of Timed Reminders, a tool the company announced in August that lets you send scheduled messages to family and friends.
Household contacts: You can upload contacts from your phone that you're comfortable letting anyone in the house call, from grandma to the vet. Usually Google only lets people call their contacts from a smart display if the Assistant recognizes the caller's voice. But with the shared contacts feature, anyone in the house can make the call.
New Home app features: Google has also revamped its Home app to make it easier to link accounts for third-party smart home devices. So now if you set up a device using that company's app, you'll get a push notification from the Home app that lets you automatically input your information. The company also is adding the ability to control more than 20 different types of devices through the Assistant. That includes things like an August Smart Lock, Telus Wi-Fi router or Meross smart garage door opener.
Partnerships: Last year at CES, the company announced a new interpreter mode that could translate conversations in real time, a feature that leans into Google's formidable machine learning and engineering chops. At the time, the feature was only available on smart displays through a pilot program at concierge desks at hotels. Earlier this month, Google brought the feature to smartphones. Now it's expanding the smart display pilot to include airports and work with nongovernment organizations. New partners include John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization based in Portland. American Airlines also announced it will test the use of interpreter mode at its Admirals Club lounge at Los Angeles International Airport.
Google also said it's expanding its partnerships with TV makers. The search giant is bringing the Assistant to Samsung's new voice-enabled smart TVs later this year. It's also working with the Chinese companies Hisense and TCL to build more far-field microphones into their TVs, so they can work like other Google Assistant smart speakers.
For Google, it's crucial to introduce new tricks that separate the Assistant from Alexa, which became a household name after Alexa released it in 2014. (Google followed suit with the Assistant two years later.)
The smart home is a particularly important battleground. At an event in October at which Google unveiled its new Pixel phones, executives talked up the idea of "ambient computing." It's a bit of corporate jargon, but it refers to an always-on, always-connected vision of the future that puts Google's services all around you, as if the company's iconic search engine had been extended to the physical world.
"Throughout your home, technology works as a single system," Rick Osterloh, Google's hardware chief, said at the event, "instead of a bunch of devices doing their own thing."
Google wants to be at the center of that system. And it starts with the Assistant.