Why? Because Samsung was never going to build it into the Galaxy S8 or any other phone it sells. Now the decision was taken out of Samsung's hands and left up to you to opt in if you want Google Assistant.
300 million Galaxy phones shipped in 2016 and most will be running Marshmallow or better.
Of course, it should be our decision because we're the ones paying way too much for phones. It's nice to sit back and think Google worked to allow Assistant to work through Play Services for everyone because it loves us and want us to have control over what's on our phones, but that's probably not why it did it. The 300 million phones Samsung shipped in 2016 (how staggering is that?) is why it did it. Without Samsung phones supporting it, Assistant would have quickly faded away.
I'm not saying that having Assistant on all those Galaxy phones means it will be a success. Just that it could never be without them. Assistant depends on user data even more than Google Now did and in a lot of different ways.
Assistant can do all those Google Now things like telling you about the weather or an upcoming flight. It's tied very tightly to your Google Account. You'll understand this when you read the agreement and accept the terms the first time you use it. (Please read it. Read them all.) But it also gets smarter with more user data of a less personal nature.
Little things that seem unimportant — how many of us are interested in a particular movie or what time of day we tend to buy gas — are a gold mine of data for a truly smart computer. For Google, too, because the companies producing movies and selling gas are interested in working with the advertiser who knows these things. Assistant may seem like an altruistic offering from Google to mankind, but it's a money-making opportunity first.
When the Pixel launched with Assistant, smart people in the industry said it would have to come to every phone soon. Because it needs data to survive, keeping it for Google's own phones or even Android TV means it would never grow. Getting it to work without a system update on those 300 million Galaxy phones means it can grow faster and better. This is a really big deal.
Samsung has its own assistant to work on and can't be taking time to work on Google's.
We don't think there is a Hatfield-McCoy thing going on between Google and Samsung. Neither would be where they are today without the other, and both know it. But there has to be some healthy competition, where Samsung's first order of business is to do what's best for its own bottom line and Google doing the same. If Google Assistant required Samsung to take the time to integrate it into its operating system it wouldn't happen. If anything Samsung would work to integrate its own assistant instead. It might be doing that, too. Google had to do the work itself on this one.
Corporate profits and strategy aside, having Assistant on all those Samsung phones as well as others is what is best for us. We get to choose what we want to use and for everyone using it, a bigger data pool makes it get better and better. That's what really matters here, and even if it's just a side effect from Google's plans to continue the domination of mobile and expand it into other areas we still benefit.