Essential guide to Google Assistant’s Continued Conversation and native controls

A little less conversation, a little more action

Assistant's Continued Conversation explained
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If you were paying attention to Google I/O, you’ll know that the company has big plans coming for Google Assistant — and they don't begin and end with Google Duplex.

Coming throughout the course of 2018 are the likes of the kid-friendly Pretty Please feature and better routines, but perhaps the most helpful developments reaching the smart assistant are the upcoming native controls and a new feature called Continued Conversation.

But what do both actually entail, and when can you expect them to be a factor in your smart home? Let’s explore.

What do native controls actually mean?

Let’s start with native controls, which were actually announced by Google in a separate developer keynote session at I/O. The company explained that nine new types of devices will soon be able to support native Assistant integration — refrigerators, air purifiers, ovens, fans, air conditioners, coffee makers, blinds, kettles and even your sprinklers – meaning it's built right into these devices and you won’t have to go through your Google Home in order to control them.

Currently, the process is much more drawn out, of course. If you want Assistant to help you warm up the oven to a certain temperature, for example, you have to wake Google up and ask it to ask another device. With native control coming to this crop of appliances, it means that commands will be streamlined considerably, and that’s especially handy if you’re chaining commands.

Essential reading: A complete list of Google Home commands

These native devices will be controlled using existing traits (such as on/off), though Google is also adding three completely new traits into the equation for some appliances. Users with smart ovens will be able to control temperature, those with fans will be able to adjust speed and Bluetooth trackers will soon be able to talk to Assistant to give an update on location.

Interestingly, there are also more appliances planned alongside the nine officially listed. Toilets, baths, chargers and set-top boxes are also planned to receive native Assistant integration at some point in 2018.

What does Continued Conversation bring?

Native controls coming to more types of home devices isn’t the only way Assistant is getting more streamlined, though, with Continued Conversation also on the horizon.

As the name suggests, this is set to expand the conversations you currently have with the smart assistant. The days of incessantly repeating “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google” when starting a new command will soon be over, with the device’s microphone staying live for eight seconds in order to chain a conversation together. That should give you more time to ask follow-up questions and eliminate some of the unnatural prompting.

If you have what you need and you don’t want Google to carry on listening, all you need to do is say “thank you” and the mic will shut off early. And for those worried about whether this means more unnecessary listening in from the smart speaker, note that this isn’t a mandatory feature.

However, it is, in a way, an extension of last year’s introduction of multiple Actions. While that allowed for two commands to be answered in one swoop — say, asking for Google to turn on the TV and dimming the lights in one phrase — the arrival of Continued Conversation means that asking follow-up questions or shouting commands should be a much, much more natural process.

Essential guide to Google Assistant’s Continued Conversation and native controls

Google even states that Assistant will be able to differentiate between you speaking amongst others and to Assistant while the mic is still live — meaning there’ll be no false activation when a friend asks you, for example, how you built your smart palace.

A couple of final things on Continued Conversations here. While some of the more recent Android phones do have support for Assistant, the company has already stated that this feature will only be coming to its Home speakers initially.

And to put it all in wider context, this feature (joined with Multiple Actions) perhaps helps Google regain an edge in the ongoing battle with Amazon's Alexa. While Alexa did recently introduce follow-up mode, which is essentially the same as Continued Conversation, it’s not able to act on two commands within a sentence. We won't know for sure how well it all works until everything's live and in homes, but on paper it's all encouraging stuff for Google.

When will these features roll out?

Not all the features unveiled at Google I/O are created equally, and thus you can expect them all to come to Assistant at different times.

As the fresh native controls are in largely in the hands of third-party companies, there’s no telling just when we'll begin to see an influx of Assistant-toting devices. We do know, however, that Google has already rolled out the tools to developers, so it’s realistic to expect a number of appliances to be ready for native control come the end of the year.

Continued Conversation, on the other hand, has a firmer date. Once testing has been completed, the feature should be available for users this summer as an option within the Home app.

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