One of Google’s main advantages over rivals like Amazon in the digital assistant race is its command of the popular Android operating system and the opportunity to embed the Google Assistant deep into our smartphones. Google is taking that a step further, previewing a new feature that lets the digital assistant read news articles and other long-form content out loud via voice command.
After clicking on a news article, users will be able to say “Hey Google, read it” or “Hey Google, read this page.” The content can be translated into 42 languages, Google said. The company said it is looking at including auto scroll and text highlighting capabilities to help users follow along.
Google didn’t say when this new feature will launch.
The new capability is interesting in the context of a recent push from Microsoft’s Cortana to read messages aloud. Microsoft recently patented technology that would let Cortana pull information out of longer content and summarize it because the human brain struggles to digest long, complex messages read aloud.
Google says its new reading experience is “built on new voice datasets to create more expressive and more natural sounding voices,” making it easier to listen for longer periods of time.
The long-form reading capability is one of several new features Google unveiled for its digital assistant at the big CES tech event in Las Vegas this week. Aided by its prominent placement in Android smartphones, the Google Assistant boasts more than 500 million monthly users, and it is available in 90 countries.
Google here again at #CES2020 as it battles Amazon in the voice assistant race. pic.twitter.com/mfh75XtjDQ
— Taylor Soper (@Taylor_Soper) January 7, 2020
A major storyline of the show in recent years has been Amazon’s Alexa vs. the Google Assistant. The companies held their own events to show off new devices late last year. At CES, Amazon and Google have showcased new gadgets made by partners and new technologies to expand the influence of their digital assistants.
Amazon has become the leader in the nascent market for smart speakers and screens powered by digital assistants. Google has been a major competitor to Amazon in smart speakers, but it has faded as more companies entered the field.
Google again set up a huge booth at CES, complete with slides, Dunkin Donuts and massive displays for its products. This year, Google showcased all the places the Google Assistant can be found, from connected cars, to Xbox consoles and more.
Cars are a major part of this year’s event. Many of Amazon’s big announcement on day one of CES had to do with more technology for vehicles. Google’s booth featured demonstrations with the Volvo XC40 Recharge, which includes an infotainment system powered by Android with the Google Assistant built-in.
Here are the other new capabilities :
- A new feature called Scheduled Actions debuting later this year will let users set times for more than 20 different types of smart devices to turn on and off, including air conditioners, air purifiers, bathtubs, coffee makers, vacuums and more. Here’s an example: “Hey Google, run the coffee maker at 6 a.m.”
- Voice-activated sticky notes place reminders of things to do on the home screen of a Google Nest Hub, and the feature doesn’t require people to sign in to make or see them.
- As privacy has become a hot button issue in the tech world, Google is giving customers new ways to manage the data its digital assistant collects. Users can say, “Hey Google, that wasn’t for you,” a way to tell the digital assistant to “forget what it heard” in the case of an unintended activation. To learn more about privacy settings, users can say “Hey Google, are you saving my audio data?”
- Last year at CES, Google introduced a new Interpreter Mode for the Google Assistant, which turns devices like the Nest Hub into a translator for people speaking different languages. At the time, it targeted the hotel industry. Google is expanding Interpreter Mode to be a more full service solution that is useful in places like stadiums, airports and other areas where people from around the world gather.