Google and Qualcomm are poised to put assistants in all the things

You know what I want? I want a microwave oven that has Wi-Fi, a really good speaker, a small touchscreen and Google Assistant. I can make my Hot Pockets while listening to some music, and even tell my little digital buddy to add Pizza Rolls to the shopping list or to turn the heat up a little bit because my feet are cold. And I think I'm going to have the chance to buy it this holiday season because new chips from Qualcomm and changes to Android Things will make it easy to put Assistant in everything.

Cheap specialty hardware and free software makes it silly to not put a voice assistant in your next product.

That's what it takes to make it happen. Everyone is talking about Lenovo's Smart Display Google Assistant video thing-a-ma-jig they demoed at CES, but it's the tech you can't see that makes it happen. You need the right microprocessor(s) with support for the right things and an operating system that can power it all without adding too much overhead. That's what Qualcomm and other chipmakers like NXP, Intel or Broadcom and Google have quietly been doing.

Enter the Low Power Bluetooth SoC QCC5100 from Qualcomm. As you can tell from the name (who named it anyway?), it provides Bluetooth support and doesn't use a lot of power. Two very important things for any modern electronic device. What the name doesn't tell you is that it also has baked-in support for voice assistant services, Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo, aptX HD audio, and integrated hybrid/active noise cancellation. This chip was designed just for headphones that use Google Assistant or Amazon's Alexa service. Other chips in development or already for sale offer similar support for specialty products.

On the Google side, new APIs for Android Things make it easy to make a cool thing with the next generation of chips. Android Things is an operating system for small connected devices that runs fast and lean. It's also easy to develop applications for because you use the same tools and methods that you would if you were building an app for an Android phone. And like Android "proper", it's free for the taking, and if you follow Google or Amazon's guidelines on what the OS can do and what features it will support when you build it, you also get Google Assistant or Alexa for free.

Not every company is as ambitious as Samsung and wants to build their own infrastructure and service backends for a voice assistant. What companies like Qualcomm and Google are offering is a turn-key solution to building a product that people will buy. This allows a company like Lenovo to build out a Smart Display. Or a company like Nest (an Alphabet holding) to put Google Assistant in the next generation of smart thermostats. Or Xiaomi to put Assistant in a television, or Kenwood to put it in your car's dashboard.

The closest any of us here has ever been to a Maserati.

The closest any of us here has ever been to a Maserati.

It's important to remember that these aren't Google products. They are made by the companies selling them using off-the-shelf parts and a purpose-built operating system that they get for free. Companies can add a new feature to a product without much extra cost to the bill of materials in the hopes that it will be a hit and they will sell millions of them. Everyone makes money — Qualcomm sells their specialty hardware, Google gets more data for their giant advertising machine in the sky, and companies like LG and Pioneer get to keep the profit from the things they sell. It's sort of like that Perfect Storm scenario from the movie, but with less rain and death (hopefully).

My prediction is that once you can add Assistant or Alexa to a product without spending a lot to develop it, companies are going to do it to everything. From a toothbrush that works with Google Health and Google Fit to a doorbell that reminds you to take an umbrella along as you leave the house, these products are coming. The question is, are we ready for them?

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • When we have connected microwaves, ovens, fridges and pretty much every other appliance in the home I wonder if they'll start talking to each other behind our backs and plot against us? I can see it now - starting a diet, logging your food on MyfitnessPal or Samsung Health and if you're at your calorie limit for the day, the kitchen light won't illuminate, the fridge refuces to open and your cooking appliances won't turn on unless we go for a run and burn some calories first. It's a slippery slope I tells ya!
  • Agreed! Too much adding this voice tech to everything is getting a little to ridiculous. I get it for some things but everything else we use too? Plus Google data mining from our browser activity and from using an Android phone is already enough from our privacy being invaded by these companies.
  • That passed over with metres to spare didn't it ....
  • I'm just impressed he managed to post a comment that didn't include "b-b-but, the almighty apple secretly planned to do this way before Google... "
  • The problem is you need data to make things more intuitive and smarter. I have a big family and during the night one of my kids is up all night. I see my wife in the morning and might say "how is he feeling"? She knows I mean the kid that was sick because she also has that information. A bit of a silly example but for AI and speech to really work you need a lot of additional information that is not contained in the actual words that you are saying.
  • Spot on. I get that people are suspicious with letting machines and companies into their homes but for it all to be truly useful, everyone needs to feed it as much as possible so it actually learns. Even things like Bixby or SwiftKey keyboard rely on your habits and usage data for voice and typing prediction.
  • Great article, Jerry! I am excited for to see wider adoption of virtual assistants like GA and Alexa. They help in so many ways already, but one of the main things I've found most beneficial is not having to look at a screen for every little thing I need or want to know/do. Phone/Screen addiction is a real thing for a lot of users.
  • Time to retire the phrase..."all the things." It sounds ridiculous.
  • To me, it does not. It points to IOT or internet of things.
  • Jerry, I was kinda thinking about this this morning. Do you have links on Google's and Amazon's requirements? I had an idea for where I wanted to put Assistant, and was wondering about the specs to do so.
  • Assistant can be used a couple of different ways. Right now you can use the Assistant SDK and its web APIs on any device that can interpret Python as well as bind the RPC APIs to assistant using Go, Java, Node.js, Ruby and C# I have it running here on my desktop using the Python code example and it only took a few minutes to get it going. "Hard" requirements to use assistant locally will probably be the same as they are for any device that needs Play Services. Of course, you need a speaker and microphone or a display and keyboard for human I/O, too.
  • I for one welcome our new bugman overlords.
  • Sounds dumb. Who needs a wifi-connected microwave or toothbrush?
  • Agreed, don't really see the use case there. Companies are getting a little carried away, and seemingly trying to make everything IoT or AI integrated. They will make just about anything connected to satisfy our addiction to gadgets. I love gadgets as much as the next person, but I really struggle to see the use case for most appliances. That's coming from someone with a robot vacuum and wouldn't mind a connected stove. Although a stove that could instantly preheat like a microwave would nearly eliminate that benefit.
  • I agree that there's not much that a wifi microwave could do to help me but my feeling is that once everything is connected, it'll be the accumulation of small conveniences and the interoperability that becomes interesting. I don't use the microwave much but I recently heated a christmas pudding. Telling Assistant to heat for 2 mins, rest for 2 mins, heat for 2 mins, rest for 2 mins, heat, rest then tell me on a speaker upstairs when it's ready would have made my evening ever so slightly easier. So yeah, once per year it might help as much as a digital timer. The idea of a wifi bath seems ludicrous but then again, I could tell assistant "bath time" and it puts the plug in, turns on the water to a temperature to my daughter's liking, checks the weather, closes the window and turns on the heating if it's cold. Perhaps dim the lights and play some soothing music and tells me when it's all ready. This isn't something I desperately need but if it's all built in then I'd rather spend those extra few minutes reading to my daughter than running upstairs to do it. And these are just the obvious examples, smarter people than me will come up with something better.
  • I see this in a different light... 'Hey Google' microwave my dinner under 'reheat' for 5 minutes beginning at 7:30 pm - so its ready when I get out of the shower... 'Hey Google' lower the temperature in the fridge to 38*. 'Hey Google' lower the family room temperature to 68* 'Hey Google' lock the doors, windows - and activate the security alarm. 🥂 It's all about verbal commands.
  • You could do all that through a hub that controls all the smart appliances... Like Google home. No need for every device under the sun to have an assistant smashed into it.
  • Maybe baking Google AI into those devices would be the easiest way to accomplish that? Although it adds complexity which Google has apparently figured out...? Or this could go very bad...
  • I think that is a bit extreme and is really superfluous to most people if it means higher product cost. Your microwave example is fair, but you really don't need an assistant for something you can quickly do when you put the food in the microwave. I also think it's a bit ridiculous to ask your fridge to turn itself down. How many people change the temp on the fridge? Most people set it and forget it. I don't think most people debate the locks, security alarm, cameras, etc,or the thermostat. Those were some of the first devices to become "smart". The only major appliance I can see a legitimate use case for is an oven, because it takes time to heat up and you can do that from another room. Everything else requires some sort of physical activity, like putting close in the washer/dryer, soap in the dishwasher, food in the microwave, etc, and offers no tangible benefit for most people.
    I say most, because it may be helpful to someone with a disability such as someone that is blind may find it easier to speak to the appliance than feel for the braille keys. It also won't go over well if you can't do laundry or cook food because your Internet is down, so the product can't be AI only which means higher product costs. I just don't see the cost/benefit for most of these devices. That's coming from someone that has probably 50 smart devices including a wifi enabled robot vacuum and 4 AI speakers. I like smart technology, but only when it makes sense.
  • I actually see things a bit differently... I see use cases for pretty much every appliance in the home. In the recent past people said, and still say today, "why would I want to control my lights with an Assistant when I can just turn them on/off myself by hand?". Well, the convenience for sitting down to watch a movie and voice commanding the entire process, including room lighting, is great for the people that use that type of technology. I see GA in appliances giving you data like energy consumption or water consumption. I can see needing to get ready to go out, but also need to run a load of laundry of dishes. I don't want to use all the hot water before my shower so I load everything up, tell GA to start both the laundry and dishwasher in an hour, then jumping in the shower. I think until Assistants become more prevalent, we don't know all the possibilities.
  • Those were quick suggestions. My assumption would be those items with Google AI baked into them would retain command structures and work off line - if they were \ remain connected in some form. Again - an assumption - that's how I would do it... The other 'cognitive' functionality of Google's AI would require an internet connection. Is that they way it will eventually work? Dunno - but I hope so. It will depend on how good the software Architects \ team are that they currently have in place.
  • I like the idea of more ubiquitous voice control while I'm busy in and around the house. I rarely have my phone right within reach when I am home. Another reason I want to be able to field messages and phone calls from anywhere.
  • Love our Google Homes and able to control things. To me the more the better. Sitting typing on my computer and a little cold "hey google turn up the temperature downstairs". Or looking for something in my room and can not see and just ask Google to turn on the lights. We started with Echos and replaced with Google Homes. What Amazon MUST do is fix the need to memorize and use commands. They have to get Alexa to work with natural language and really this should be priority #1. I find it a big amazing that Alexa has now been on the market for over 3 years and Amazon has yet to fix this.
  • And what Google must do is improve their feature set. I totally understand and share the desire to have an AI with more natural command language, but Google lacks some very basic functionality that Amazon has had for a while. I won't even consider any Google home product until I can disable devices, I can change the wake word to something more natural than Google, it supports products like Sonos and Arlo, and "drop in" functionality is available rather than whole home broadcasting. It's kind of amazing to me that I can't disable a device within Google Assistant. It seems like something that would be very easy to implement. When you have a central hub like SmartThings, you have everything connected to it for automation. At the same time, I would rather connect the assistant directly to the 1st party provider for improved functionality and performance, or at least have the option. I love the competition, because there is plenty of room for improvement from all of the current assistants.
  • Given how I secure IOT stuff is, that is a definite no.
  • Are you afraid someone might vacuum your house while you are gone? ;)
  • Ok, am I the only one that absolutely doesn't want an assistant in everything? It's in my. Phone, which I'd with me like 99% of the time. I don't need it in everything else. And if you put your tinfoil hats on with me, combine a digital assistant that is always listening and recording with the upcoming FISA vote and now you have the Cia listening everywhere! Lol
  • Are you planning to do something you don't want the CIA to hear?
  • So you would be happy with strangers listening to your every conversation, knowing everything you do?
  • A select group of strangers with some of the highest security clearance in the US...sure. I have no issue with that if it helps keep the world I live in safer.
  • If you have an assistant, you don't need your phone with you 99% of the time. Could be just me but I like to get home, take off any jewelry (wedding ring), watch (when I used to wear one), and ideally, not look at my phone nor carry it around the house. Although I don't think in their current form assistants are listening for anything more than keywords, my theory is that within a few years we'll be able to opt in for always-on active listening that can proactively make suggestions based on your conversations, e.g. "Dave, you were talking to your wife earlier about a holiday, I found a nice package to Greece for you." But I'd be more concerned with things like location tracking on a phone, speed recording in a car or heart rate on a watch than any of my conversations. Although I can imagine family arguments being used in abuse cases.
  • The intelligence agencies, ours and others, Long with FBI, and all sorts of nefarious actor's, must be ecstatic about their ability to listen in on every conversation in a home, car or workplace with these gadgets.
  • How about Google Assistant in a DSLR? "Hey Google, add this shot to my album." Or "send these photos to my phone."