Google brings hands-free calling, proactive alerts to Home

Home is about to get a lot more powerful with voice-calling, new notifications and response systems and a bunch of new music/video services.Google’s Rishi Chandra announced a bunch of new additions to the company’s home voice assistant onstage at I/O.

Perhaps the biggest addition was to Home is hands-free calling. You can now call any landline or mobile phone in the US or Canada for free just by asking your Google Home to make a call. Earlier this month, Amazon launched voice calling and messaging on the Echo and Alexa app, though all devices must have Alexa or the Alexa app downloaded.

Interestingly, since Google Home can identify users based on your voice, if you tell it to “Call Mom,” it will know who you are and whose mom it should be calling. Users can tie their mobile phone to their profile.

Google took a lot of time to address how it was shaping notifications and responses on Home to add greater flexibility and utility to voice interactions.

Proactive Assistance lets Google Home talk to you and give you updates without having you prompt it. Have an event in your calendar and traffic is getting bad? Home can let you know that you might need to leave a bit earlier. You’ll also be able to have Home remind you of things without asking it whether there are things it needs to remind you of.

Perhaps one of the most interesting evolutions to come to Home was the addition of Visual Responses to the platform. Voice assistants can’t do everything and sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. If the information that Google Home needs to tell you could be better expressed on a screen, you can throw it onto your phone or onto a TV with Chromecast support.

If you need to know the location of a restaurant, Home can easily tell you but asking it for directions there is a bit stickier. Instead, you can say, “OK, Google. Let’s Go.” and Google will toss the directions to your phone seamlessly. Again, Google Home recognizes who is talking to it and can give you the relevant info based on your specific profile.

For binge-watchers, one of Home’s most useful features is about to get a lot better. Users could already ask Home to throw a TV show from Netflix or YouTube onto their Chromecast, today Google added support for a number of other streaming services including HBO Now, Hulu, Crackle, CBS, YouTube’s new TV service and a few others.

On the music-streaming front, Google also announced that it’s adding support for the free version of Spotify, Deezer and Soundcloud.  Users will now be able to play songs from their phone on Home over bluetooth. Google already has support for Spotify Premium, Google Play, Pandora and a few others.

With Amazon predicted to control 70% of the home assistant market, Google wants to use its AI smarts and partnerships to make its Home platform wittier and more dynamic than anything else out there.