Google’s Home devices have always been able to give you news summaries but if you wanted to delve deeper into a specific news story, you had to go online. That’s no longer the case. You can now ask the Assistant for news on the stories that interest you. The feature sounds better than it plays, but it’s a step in the right direction if Home is to become the outstanding voice-activated news source it could be.
The Assistant responds to commands like “What’s the latest <topic> news” or “What’s the news on <topic>” by reading a summary from an unnamed source. Three articles from different sources are sent to your phone and the Assistant asks if you’d like it to read them. The sources for the articles appear to be chosen randomly and are not limited to the sources chosen in the Assistant’s settings.
If you ask the Assistant to read the articles it reads the headline and the first few sentences. If you want more, you’re told to go to the article that was sent to your phone. The articles appear as cards in the Assistant app.
How much of an article is read is not affected by comprehension of the content of the article. When I asked for a reading of a CNN article I heard the following.
As prosecutors neared the end of presenting their case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the federal court in Virginia gave its watchers a true cliffhanger. Here are three takeaways from the day in court Friday, 1. The Big Mystery. That’s all I have for now.
Either the Assistant is cleverer than I thought and is having some fun by presenting its own cliffhanger and leaving the listener with a big mystery or Google needs to bring more of its vaunted natural language processing expertise to the Assistant’s news-reading capabilities.
The ability to focus in on a specific news story is a welcome addition to Home, but hearing a few sentences from random news sources can be frustrating. It gives you a taste but doesn’t deliver the full meal. Here are several ways the feature could be improved.
- Give the user the option of listening to the full article upon request. The option could be presented either before the initial few sentences are read or after each excerpt with a probe like “Would you like me to continue?” A toggle in Settings to always read full articles would also be helpful.
- Allow the user to choose whether the sources for the three articles are chosen by Google or are restricted to sources chosen by the user.
- Allow the user to limit the articles to a single source with a command such as “What’s the news about Paul Manafort from the New York Times?” Many news sources provide multiple articles on important topics and the one chosen by Google may not be the one that’s of most interest to the user.
Home devices could become first-rate voice-activated sources for news if Google were to enrich the current feature with the enhancements listed above. Users could focus on a specific topic and get a survey of news coverage either across sources or within a particular source, and could listen to a full report from a source of their choosing or from an unexpected source that sounds interesting.
Home’s ability to focus on a specific news item is also available through the Assistant on Android phones. Support for Android Auto and Assistant-enabled headphones is coming “soon”. The Assistant in Lenovo’s Smart Display offers YouTube videos instead of readings. The feature is only available in the US at present.
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