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Google Assistant is getting a big upgrade — here's how

Google Assistant
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Google Assistant just got smarter and easier to use thanks to a new set of options.

This behind-the-scenes upgrade is one that will let you tailor how the Assistant interacts with the apps on your phone. Google is promising the Assistant will get smarter by learning from your usage patterns, but the more immediate benefit is controlling which apps you want it to access and which you don't. 

The new "Your apps" menu is found at the bottom of the main settings menu (although at the time of writing it had not appeared on our Google Pixel 4a 5G handset). In this sub-menu, you find two options for all your apps, which are enabled by default. There's also a link at the bottom to create custom voice shortcuts for your apps, a feature introduced in late 2020.

The first is "Let your Assistant learn from this app." It's described as giving "a more personalized experience" by letting the Assistant learn from your usage of the app in question. What the benefit of this feature is isn't specified, though.

The second is "Let your Assistant choose this app". This allows Assistant to pass on your orders to relevant apps, even if you don't name one. This is already a feature you've likely come across if you're a regular Google Assistant user, but now you can turn it off. It could be useful if you have several apps with similar functions, such as browsers or photo apps, but only want one accessible by Google Assistant, be that for practical reasons, privacy or other concerns.

Let's compare this to Google Assistant's main rival. Apple's Siri already offers the option to toggle "Learn from (insert app name here)" within the Siri and Search menu of the Settings app. There isn't an equivalent to enabling/disabling which apps get chosen for specific tasks, beyond selecting a default in certain cases. So while on one hand, Google Assistant is playing catch-up to Siri, it's leaped ahead when it comes to the depth of customization.

Google I/O 2021 takes place next week from May 18, and will likely have some more Google Assistant news to show off. The headliner will be Android 12 however, which is introducing new features like a native one-hand mode, new gestures and improved notifications. 

Hopefully we'll also get some news about the Google Pixel 5a, the eagerly awaited successor to the excellent but well-priced Google Pixel 4a. It's thought to be borrowing a lot from the Pixel 4a 5G, which is a good phone but not one we'd want to see released again unchanged in 2021.