Google Assistant just got proactive — and a lot more useful

A phone showing a Google Assistant menu, with options for some commands you can make
A phone showing a Google Assistant menu, with options for some commands you can make (Image credit: Android Central)

One of Android's killer features for a lot of us was Google Now. Google Now could tell you when your Mastercard payment was coming up, let you know that you might need to take an umbrella for your trip to Cleveland, and remind you about things like that dentist appointment you made 6 months ago and forgot about. Once given access to your Google account — and mind you, it needed a lot of access to everything you have stored in Google — it seemed like a real assistant.

Fast forward a few years, and the debut of Google Assistant proper left many a bit disappointed. Assistant is smart enough to turn on your lights or set your thermostat for you, and that's really cool, but as an assistant, it just wasn't as useful as Google Now. It seemed like a small regression to the dark days before Google was all up in your business, but being helpful about it. Today's news about Assistant getting more proactive looks like it might change that up and make Assistant a bit more ... assistive.

Assistant will do things a bit differently than we're used to seeing. Before the age of smartphones, folks used planners or Dayrunners to lay out the days itinerary and activities. Pick up the dry cleaning at 9, then lunch with Susan at P.F. Changs. Meet with a business contact at 2, then take your little brother to baseball practice at 5. Whether your life is incredibly mundane or if you're some sort of RockGod, a planner you carried around kept track of everything.

Google Now tried to recreate that but use a different format where cards would pop into view when and where they were relevant. That was really cool and really smart. Now you would have directions to the cleaners available at your fingertips or the menu for P.F. Changs on your screen (the Mongolian Beef is to die for). That was helpful information that we didn't have to go looking for, and the fact that we didn't need to search it out is what made Google Now great. Not the interface, nor the way it knew everything. How it presented that bit of extra information was the icing on the cake.

It looks like Assistant is going to give us that bit of extra information, but do it in a way that is a bit retro with a scrolling day planner style view. This allows for some nice changes from how things used to be by keeping everything there to see at a glance on the same screen or card, while still dropping those bits that make it special like a button to make a call or a live traffic map. It's not anything new in itself — Google Assistant will already give you all of this through regular notifications if you provide it with the information — but it's far more useful than a mess of notifications that we will probably end up dismissing by accident or a set of cards that we'll inadvertently swipe away.

No more poking around because we mistakenly swiped the card with our boarding pass away.

I'm looking forward to seeing what I need to know in a modern take on the Today theme from an old Palm Pilot or BlackBerry, but the addition of some extra bits of information like a discovery section that can help me find something to do where I'm at when I'm there, or integration with apps like Google Keep or Todoist are the fascinating features. Allowing Assistant to suggest app actions and dig into an app's data (with our permission, of course) mean that your daily overview will look very different from my daily overview, but we'll both have what we need at our fingertips.

It's the little things that separate a good piece of software from a great piece of software. Checking the traffic or reminding you to pick up a package are little things that we can use plenty of other apps to do, but now that they are bundled into Google Assistant, a good app might become a great one again.

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.

  • But, is it a gimmick?
  • If it's useful it's not a gimmick
  • I agree!
  • What key phrase is required to activate this part of the assistant? *edit* nvm, the "Google Assistant: Everything You Need to Know" post got updated and explains you need to tap on the top-right icon.
  • Actually, I get all this if I just say "Show me My Day" to Assistant. What I *really* want is for this to show up on my Chromecasted TV if I say it to my Google Home.
  • Google reminded me that a new episode of Face Off is on tonight. No idea how Google even knows I watch it. I found it really creepy.
  • Based on a no-information guess, I'd suspect it's the result of searching for information about the show on a logged-in device, possibly occurring near the times when episodes have previously aired. Alternative option: The user appears to be interested in other shows that users that like Face Off search for, perhaps the user might like to know that a new episode of Face Off is incoming.
  • When does it start rolling out? I don't see it yet...
  • Hey Jerry - maybe this update coincides with the Google Assistant with Smart Display? The Lenovo one at least was supposed to be coming out in July, after all, and would be a perfect compliment to that.
  • Yes Google Assistant got updated and thankfully it's more relevant on my iPod touch than my Pixel 2. I may need to get an iPhone, iOs updates Google apps and features before Pixel phones...
  • How is this proactive??? It only shows up after activating the assistant and tapping a button. That's all reactive, not proactive. I do like the new overview but I feel it should be immediately visible when opening the assistant. A voice command to get it would be nice too. Someone posted about "show me my day" but while useful, it's slightly different.