Google Assistant branches out, supporting third-party hardware and smarter features

Maybe your washing machine will be powered by Google after all.

Google gave its Google Assistant a big promotion on Wednesday, adding the ability to control more devices, make payments, and even run on Apple's iPhone as well as consumer appliances.

Google's Assistant runs on more than 100 million devices, according to Google executives. The company's goal is to expand its reach, making it smarter and more capable as it goes.

Expanding Assistant's reach...

Probably the most important Assistant announcement of the morning was Google's plans to integrate Assistant into a slew of consumer devices. The company said it was working with Sony, Panasonic, and others to control them with the Assistant, and even bake it in to the device itself. A special "Google Assistant built-in" badge will highlight appliances that include that capability, Google said.

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Look for consumer devices to gain additional intelligence with Google Assistant.

Google also plans to release a software development kit (SDK) to allow developers to add Assistant capabilities to other devices as well, without an explicit partnership.

In an interesting twist, one of those third-party "devices" will actually be the Apple iPhone, which will receive its own version of the Assistant to compete with Apple's Siri, right on her own turf.

Finally, Google said Assistant will be expanded to French, German, Japanese, and Brazilian Portuguese, as well as Italian, Spanish, and Korean, by the end of the year. To add a degree of privacy, users will be able to type directly into Assistant.

...and making Assistant smarter

As Google widens the Assistant's reach, the company is also making it smarter. One of the ways is with Google Lens, which appears to be an upgraded form of Google Goggles. In a demonstration, Google Lens used the user's location and what it saw with the phone's camera to identify places like restaurants and automatically supply ratings and other information.

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Google Lens can "see" the world around the phone, and understand it.

Finally, Google announced a significant new capability to Assistant: improving its Actions capability on Assistant to include transactions, including payments. Actions allows third-party services to interact with you, using Assistant as the mediator. When it comes to payments capability, Google Assistant can talk a user through buying a takeout order without talking to a live human. In one demonstration, Valerie Nygaard, the product manager for Assistant, bought a sandwich from Panera via Assistant, even substituting ingredients. When she was done, Assistant provided her with a summary of the bill. Because she had a credit card entered in her Google account, she was also able to make the payment via Assistant.

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