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With New Products, Google Flexes Muscles To Competitors, Regulators

Google Vice President Mario Queiroz talks about the uses of the new Google Home device during the keynote address of the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif.
Eric Risberg
Google Vice President Mario Queiroz talks about the uses of the new Google Home device during the keynote address of the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif.

The message from Google's developers' conference is clear: The company is prepared to take on competitors as well as regulators.

CEO Sundar Pichai and his team were flexing. Big time.

Through a litany of product announcements at the so-called I/O annual conference in Mountain View, Calif. — messaging apps, a personal virtual assistant and a voice-controlled speaker that connects you with it -- the company basically said:

We can do chatbots better than Facebook. We can be smarter at home than Amazon Echo. Our personal assistant gets trained on Google search, which is more widely used than Microsoft's Bing. We've got you covered on privacy; just like Apple, our new messaging service is getting end-to-end encryption.

Google has been under scrutiny from regulators in Europe who say its position is too dominant and criticize Google for pulling consumers into bundles of its products.

Well, it looks like Google won't stop bundling anytime soon. The personal assistant, which will work through multiple devices, is an effort to deepen the relationship with customers.

"We want users to have an ongoing two-way dialogue with Google," Pichai said about the personal assistant. "We think of this as building each user their own individual Google."

Already 20 percent of queries on Google's mobile app and Android phones are voice queries — people saying "OK Google" to summon an older assistant called Google Now.

The company's been working for years to listen better — get what you say when you're in a noisy place, speaking slang like a human and not a robot, working to complete tasks. The assistant is being integrated into a new chatbot app Allo that helps you make dinner reservations or buy movie tickets.

Google is also releasing a new device called Google Home to help you manage your domestic life. The company wants Home — which looks kind of like a white plastic salt shaker — to have a place at your dinner table and be the all-knowing, helpful extended family you never had.

"It draws on 17 years of innovation in organizing the world's information to answer questions which are difficult for other assistants to handle," said Vice President Mario Queiroz.

Emphasis on other. Google leaders acknowledge: Amazon did it first, with the popular Echo. But they contend their device is smarter — and it can operate in a network — taking commands to shut off the lights in one bedroom while playing Spotify in another.

Google did not announce a release date.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.