Wallpapers aren't the only new thing rolling out to Android Auto users this week, Google is also turning on some handy features to simplify activities while you're driving. Users can now add custom shortcuts to the launcher to quickly call pre-selected contacts or activate Google Assistant commands. Along with this, Google Assistant routines are available again after more than two years since they mysteriously stopped working through Auto.
Last November, the Google Home app received a colorful card-based media control interface, which was quite an improvement over the previous one. But multi-room or multi-speaker playback is rather tricky to set up through this card-based interface, and Google seems to think the same. The company has introduced a much more intuitive UI for media controls in version 2.31 of the Home app that lets you cast to individual or multiple speakers and displays on the fly. And Assistant Routines can finally be triggered through the app again following the update.
The Google Home app is core to how you control and interact with dozens of different devices, so it's understandably one of Google's most feature-packed applications. It only got more interesting with version 2.28, as the new update hinted at the rebranding of Android TV, as well as adding some new features surrounding routines and home presence-sensing that were teased earlier this year. Now it seems like the new Home/Away routines powered by presence sensing are available to most users.
Some people will have taken to working from home better than others as we all adjust to the new normal, but it's always good to have a little helping hand. If you're struggling to stay on schedule with your work, or could just do with the occasional moral support, this latest Google Assistant routine feature could be just what you need.
Assistant's features are far from consistent across platforms and have been like that since the service's launch. Some commands work on phones but not speakers, others vice-versa, not to mention smartwatches, TVs, cars, Bluetooth headsets, and other types of devices. Here's another example of this fragmentation: Routines aren't working on Auto. In fact they haven't been supported for over a year and there's no solution on the horizon.
Assistant-powered smart displays have all the voice access features you get with the Assistant speakers, but sometimes it's easier to press a button. There's a new button on Assistant smart displays today, offering quick access to your routines. If you have a smart display, the button is probably already waiting for you.
Google Assistant is growing ever more useful with bazillions of actions and abilities. What makes it really powerful is its integration with smart home tech, allowing us to control our houses with nothing but our voice. While more and more categories of home automation products are natively supported by the Assistant, others have to be specifically addressed by saying "Ok Google, ask [some device] to [do some action]." Until recently, sprinklers and pipe leak detectors fell into the latter category, but now, Google has announced that several companies have added native Assistant integration, starting with Rachio, Rain Bird, LeakSmart, and Flo by Moen.
Google Assistant is kind of a mess on Chrome OS right now. It's still only officially available on the Pixelbook and Pixel Slate, and both devices have completely different implementations — the Pixelbook runs Assistant as an Android app, while the Pixel Slate has a native version (which will eventually come to the Pixelbook and other models). Apparently, the Slate version never supported Google Assistant routines, but that will soon be fixed.
Google revealed that its Assistant Routines would be integrated into the Clock app just a couple of days ago, giving you information like the day's weather, your upcoming calendar, and other configurable settings after the alarm is dismissed. At the time, we were told the feature would be rolling out this week, and Google seems to have just barely made that cutoff. Google Assistant Routine integration into the Clock app is now live.