Google Assistant learns how to read texts as its prime-time rollout continues

Google's voice-activated Assistant can finally interact with our messages.

IDG

IDG

Google Assistant is having a great month. Just last week Google started rolling out its voice-activated aide to all Android phones running Marshmallow and Nougat, and now it’s showing off a new trick that will make it much more useful: integration with our messages.

For whatever reason, Google Assistant struggled when it came to reading our messages before. Even though it had a second home in Allo and could send messages on command, Assistant balked when asked basic questions about our incoming texts, as it was unable to read and interact with them. As first spotted by 9to5Google, that’s changed in the latest update.

Now you can ask Assistant to hear the last message you received, dictate the one you just sent, and even read the most recent message from a specific person. Additionally, if you ask Assistant if you have any unread messages, it will show messages that haven’t been looked at, and if there aren’t any, it will say so, while displaying a button to read the latest messages in your account. When you ask to "Read my messages," it will display the five most recent, tell you who sent the latest one, and ask if you'd like to hear it.

The integration works with whatever default messaging service you’ve selected for your phone (it worked on Android Messages on my Pixel as well as LG's Messaging app on my pre-release G6), but it doesn’t seem to extend to Assistant's other extensions. When I tried to replicate the functionality in Allo and on my Android Wear 2.0 watch, for example, it brought up web results rather than my texts.

The feature appears to be live on any phones that have Assistant enabled, so it should be rolling out with the version being delivered as part of the large-scale Google Play Services update. However, I’m still waiting for Google Assistant to appear on my Nexus 6P, so it still might be a while before it reaches your phone.

Assistant’s big break: It might seem like a small thing, but the ability to read and interact with our texts is a big step for Assistant. Coupled with the massive roll-out to all Nougat and Marshmallow phones (not to mention Android Wear 2.0 watches), Google is making a serious push for Assistant to be the bot to beat in the AI war. So not only does messaging integration remove a major stumbling block to full-scale adoption, it also paves the way for future interactions that make our experience with Assistant that much smoother.

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