Google has announced plans to remove at least 17 features from its Assistant product, following recent reports of layoffs in the division. The company is focusing on eliminating “underutilized features” to prioritize quality and reliability, as stated in a blog post by Google Assistant VP Duke Dukellis. Users may receive notifications starting January 26, informing them that certain features will no longer be available after a specified date.
While Google did not provide specific details on how removing these commands will enhance Assistant or describe any particular quality and reliability issues, it emphasized a commitment to refining the user experience based on feedback. The move suggests that the company may be addressing user concerns about the core usability of Assistant.
Among the 17 functions slated for removal are tasks such as accessing or managing your cookbook, using voice commands to send emails, videos, or audio messages, and rescheduling events in Google Calendar. Additionally, features like using App Launcher in Google Assistant’s driving mode on Google Maps for tasks such as reading and sending messages, making calls, and controlling media will also be phased out. Google has outlined the functionalities that Assistant will still support for these tasks and has suggested alternative methods. Although the list provided is not exhaustive, it highlights some of the affected features.
The company is implementing changes to how Assistant functions on phones. The microphone icon in the Google search bar will no longer activate Assistant but will initiate a Google voice search, emphasizing its most popular use case. However, the “Hey Google” hotword and the power button long-press will maintain their functionality in activating Assistant, consistent with previous operations.
Google’s recent confirmation of layoffs impacting at least three divisions, including Assistant, hardware devices, and core engineering, is noteworthy in the context of the company’s stated emphasis on AI in the future. After laying off 12,000 people in the previous year, Google expressed its intention to prioritize AI development.
In October, at the Pixel 8 event, Google announced its plans to introduce Assistant with Bard, a version designed to generate personalized answers based on events, dates, and conversations stored on the user’s phone. However, the company has not clarified whether the introduction of this new version is connected to the current reduction in Assistant functionality. The move indicates a shifting focus within Google, potentially steering away from certain AI products while maintaining a commitment to advancing AI technologies in other areas.