10 things I hate about the Google Pixel’s Assistant

Google Assistant is Google’s long-overdue response to Apple’s Siri virtual assistant. It’s available by pushing the home button at the bottom of the new Google Pixel smartphones. It can send emails for you, recite your calendar events, open apps, tell jokes, play games with you, translate words, turn on music, provide information about movies showing nearby, help you tune an instrument, and more.

Generally speaking, after playing with the Assistant on the Pixel for a few days, I’ve found it to be better at understanding what I’m saying than Siri. That’s impressive. And, at its best, it surprises you with Googley things like miniature games that you can’t find anywhere else, quirky responses, and sudden bursts of music.

Unfortunately, it’s not always impressive. Its responses to your commands can sometimes leave you disappointed. Here are 10 qualities I dislike about the Google Assistant as it’s presented in the Pixel and Pixel XL, in random order.

  • It may not integrate with all your favorite apps. Like most other smartphone users, I open a bunch of apps each day, but there’s one that I rely on more than most others: the task management app Trello. I add a new card to a board when I need to remember something. But when I asked the Assistant to create a new card in one of my boards, I was simply given a link to a guide on Trello’s website. The Assistant was similarly useless when I asked it to tweet out various things from my account. I ended up getting links to websites and apps in the Play Store. The Assistant couldn’t even start a Google Doc for me, let alone send a Facebook message to a friend or play a specific song on Apple Music. I figure all this will change after Google exposes the Actions on Google functionality in December.
  • It doesn’t always know the answers to basic questions. I’m not sure why, but sometimes the Assistant is not capable of doing what you would consider basic calculations or inferences. For example, my colleague Emil Protalinskidiscovered that the Assistant couldn’t quickly figure out how many days there were until the U.S. presidential election. Even when Emil rephrased his query to remove the dependency on a previous query, the Assistant still fell back on a web result.
The Google Assistant on the Pixel fields questions about the U.S. presidential election.

Above: The Google Assistant on the Pixel fields questions about the U.S. presidential election.

Image Credit: Screenshot
  • It won’t answer questions about the phone itself. One nice feature of Siri on the Mac is its ability to tell you about the underlying hardware. There’s nothing like that here, even though Google presumably knows more about these phones than any about other Android devices, because it was so deeply involved in their development. Even questions about battery life do not result in meaningful answers. If you ask it to close an app, it will reply by saying that it can’t do that. If you tell it that you want to change the wallpaper on the phone, it will give you a web result rather than bring up the right section in Settings.
  • It only speaks English. If you ask the Assistant whether it speaks any other language, like Russian, it will tell you without embellishment that it does not. For the sake of comparison, at launch in 2011, Siri spoke French and German, in addition to English localized to the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. Today, Siri is available in 36 countries. So Google, whose Translate service supports more than 100 languages, has a long way to go.
  • It won’t support more than one Google account. Have more than one Google account, as I do? Sorry, but you’ll only be able to get information tied to the Google account with which you’re logged into the Google Assistant. You can switch accounts if you must, but you can’t get results by saying something like “Show me new emails in my work Gmail account” while you’re using a personal Google account.
  • You can’t see the Assistant’s answers to your questions on a non-Pixel device. Sometimes it’s nice to remember how a chatbot responded to whatever you said. While you can look up your previous Assistant queries through Google’s recently launched My Activity site, you can’t see what the Assistant came back with. All you get is a link to a Google search result containing your query. But that search string won’t always give you what you got in the Assistant. This is one area where Google had a chance to leapfrog Siri — whose interactions are limited to the device where they occur — but apparently chose not to.
Google Assistant queries on Google's My Activity site.

Above: Google Assistant queries on Google’s My Activity site.

Image Credit: Screenshot
  • You can’t type words into it. Sometimes talking to your phone isn’t practical. But right now, that’s the only way you can interact with the Assistant in its top position on the Pixels. Yes, you can open Allo and type something to it there, but that’s an extra step that you arguably shouldn’t have to take. I imagine that this implementation detail will be particularly frustrating to people whose voices Google tends to have trouble understanding.
  • It does a poor job of providing you with certain kinds of news. Even though Google operates Google News and gets bombarded with new information all day, every day, the Google Assistant doesn’t always give you news about specific topics. Even if you specifically ask for news, the Assistant might merely turn up a web result that it considers relevant. In one case, I asked for news about the Google Home but the Assistant instead started playing pre-recorded news that Google has handy, even though it didn’t have anything to do with Google Home. If you wanted news from a specific source — for instance, if you would like Google to read you the latest VentureBeat article aloud — well, it’s lacking there, too.
How the Google Assistant on the Google Pixel handles requests for news from specific outlets.

Above: How the Google Assistant on the Google Pixel handles requests for news from specific outlets.

Image Credit: Screenshot
  • You can’t tap on a previous command to repeat it. I’m not sure why. This can be helpful in cases when Google offers you multiple suggestions but you choose one and the others disappear.
  • The display turns off sometimes in the midst of conversation. For example, both times when I’ve tried the included Mad Labs game, the screen suddenly turned black, and after the Assistant finished speaking, I wasn’t sure if I had to press the microphone button to respond or if I could just speak. This isn’t the end of the world, but when you have a screen — unlike the Amazon Alexa or the upcoming Google Home — you probably want to take full advantage of it. I tend to understand and remember things best when I see them, and so for me this is irritating.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the Google Assistant — I just want it to be better, and I know Google has enough artificial intelligence talent and technology to solve a lot of these problems. What I don’t know is how long that will take.


4 Things Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know About SEO

Not every SEO technique is equally useful to everyone.

The internet is presently one of the most reliable sources of income for lots of individuals, including businesses and organizations. It is therefore very important for them to have an online presence in our digital world.

However, even if you know how to make your own website, that is not enough. Having a website for your business does not automatically guarantee immediate turnover and financial success. There are issues such as ranking and traffic to address. It is also very important to make your website mobile responsive, because Google is not likely to send a lot of traffic to your site if it is not. And for one simple reason: more people browse on their phones than their PCs.

That is where SEO comes in. Granted, SEO is a popular acronym in the online world, and most people know something about it. But, nevertheless, there are many important facts about it that you probably don’t. I will attempt to discuss four basics here in very simple language and to describe how they affect your business.

1. On-site optimization.

While SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a popular term, a lot of people do not know what on-site optimization means. This is the process of ensuring that your website achieves acceptance by both viewers and search engines alike.

This can be achieved by putting the right keywords, key phrases, and tags on your site’s pages. This is what helps Google determine how to rank your website. In fact, according to this business buyer’s guide to SEO, “Google needs to know the subject matter of a site in order to categorize it properly, so it looks at what’s actually on the pages to determine the topics that are covered.”

2. Off-site optimization.

This refers to the process of trying to achieve a high rank for your website using external methods. This process is not done on your website the way on-site optimization is.

In this process, Google tries to make the sites it considers the “most authoritative” or “most important” to rank highest when a particular term is searched. Most times, a site’s perceived authority or importance is determined by how many other sites are linking to it.

So, having links to your site appear on large platforms and popular blogs helps your website rank higher with Google.

3. White-hat SEO.

This term refers to the application of different, legal optimization techniques to drive greater traffic to a website, in order to achieve high rank on search engines. The intended traffic here is human traffic.

Some of the these techniques are back linkingkeyword analysis, and link building. The objective is to increase the popularity of the site through writing good content that other sites can link to, thereby increasing your site’s rank.

4. Black-hat SEO.

This SEO technique involves the use of illegal techniques to achieve the same objective, high ranking. Those who practice black-hat SEO break Google’s rules to achieve raise their website’s rank. It is the direct opposite of white-hat SEO practices.

Some of these techniques are:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • The use of invisible text
  • Creating fake pages to get the desired back links
  • Using doorway pages
  • Page swapping

This method, while seeing increased use, is still illegal and is not the best way to grow your online business. Black-hat SEO can get your online platform banned from the ranks of search engine results, frequently just after you have raised your site’s visibility. It may seem to bear faster results but the disadvantages are too many.

How these techniques affect your business.

  1. You need both on-site optimization and off-site optimizationfor your site to be considered for a place on the first page of Google. The absence of these techniques is a sure sign that you aren’t really looking to get noticed, and this naturally impacts on how much patronage you get from online channels.
  2. If you use black-hat SEO technique to rank high, the result will be temporary. You may get the desired result, but Google will most likely find out and penalize you.
  3. The white-hat SEO techniques are slower in terms of getting you well-ranked, however, the result is permanent. Google will have determined that you abide by its rules and regulations, and leave you alone.
  4. Black-hat SEO techniques are cheaper to get, but the result is not worth it. White-hat SEO techniques, on the other hand, are more expensive to use, but promise uninterrupted, long-term financial benefit.
  5. Online patronage is determined by your visibility. Your visibility is determined by your popularity and ranking, and your popularity by how well you use SEO.

The decision you make now may determine the success or failure of your business. It can help you to avoid the pitfalls many frequently fall into. If you employ the right techniques, have confidence that your business will receive a massive boost. The result will be more customer traffic and frequent visits to the bank, with a genuine smile upon your face.