Google Assistant updates: Airline check-ins, hotel bookings, language translation and Maps

January 8, 2019

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There’s a flurry of Google Assistant feature updates and news coming out of CES. Perhaps most significantly, Google now says users can check-in to United Airlines flights using the Assistant; you can also book a hotel room with several hotel chains.

Foreign language translation. Also announced today were foreign language translation for Google Home devices and the rollout of Google Assistant integration into Maps (Android and iOS). (The Maps integration was previously announced at Google I/O.)

The interpreter function will support more than 25 languages to start. It will be available on Google Home Hub and Google Assistant-supported third-party smart displays. It will also be available on the original Google Home and Home Mini speakers.

With interpreter mode on Google Home Hub, one person speaks to the display and the translated phrase appears on the other side of a split screen. The other individual then repeats the process and the display shows the next installment of the conversation. The question or statement is also read aloud by the assistant. (Microsoft also showed off similar simultaneous translation capabilities last year at an event in San Francisco.)

Hotel booking and airline check-in. The hotel booking capability is only available on smartphones to start. It’s not live for me yet but appears to be a multi-screen, interactive process initiated by voice. Google says that it’s working with multiple hotel chains and online booking services, including Choice Hotels, AccorHotels and InterContinental Hotels Group, Priceline, Expedia, Mirai and Travelclick. Google calls the initial rollout “just the first step in our goal of easing the hotel booking process with the Assistant.”

Airline check-in is only available with United for now. But more partners are coming, says Google.

It very much remains to be seen how the hotel booking process works. It will probably be more efficient to do it manually for some time. Alternatively, Google Assistant might be used to initiate the process for a known hotel. By comparison, I could imagine airline check-in being widely adopted since it’s a much more linear and straightforward process.

Assistant ready to drive Google Maps. Google Assistant on Maps was announced last year. Voice interaction and search are obviously already available. However, Assistant integration expands the things you can do within Maps. Users will be able to send texts and play podcasts or music. There are additional capabilities available in the Android version, including sending messages through a range of third-party apps (e.g., WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger).

Some tech writers are calling Google Assistant’s inclusion in Maps for iOS a “Trojan Horse” because it will expose many more iPhone owners to the Google Assistant, which can currently be accessed only through the Google Assistant iOS app.

Why you should care. The ubiquity of Google Assistant will reinforce usage as we head toward the much-cited (but loosely sourced) milestone that says half of all search will be initiated by voice in 2020. These announcements today yield two major takeaways for marketers.

The first is that Google is working hard to make the Assistant (and by extension, Home) a transactional platform. That will have significant implications for marketers. The second is that if the Assistant captures a growing percentage of lookups and queries, it will become even more important to optimize listings (for offline businesses) and for everyone create more content for featured snippets — as conventional search results become less common.

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