Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones will be able to make phone calls to local businesses to ask about hours or even book an appointment on your behalf, saving you the trouble of talking to a human being. The feature will be available starting next month when Google’s Duplex technology gets a public launch.
Meanwhile a new Call Screen feature could also respond to spam calls without any user intervention.
Just a day after Google unveiled its new phones, Bloomberg reports that Android founder Andy Rubin’s new company may have an even more ambitious plan in the works.
Essential is reportedly working on a phone that can respond to phone calls and text messages without any user intervention.
The new phone would combine virtual assistant software and a new design to create a phone that you interact with less than most modern smartphones. According to Bloomberg, the idea would be to create a phone for people who don’t want the distractions associated with most Android and iOS devices… or maybe a secondary device that people could use in conjunction with another smartphone.
Essential has an interesting track record so far. The company’s first phone was released in 2017 and featured a camera cut-out in the display months before Apple unveiled the iPhone X (and before almost every phone maker followed suit).
It also featured near-stock Android software, support for modular add-ons.
The phone was criticized for its mediocre camera and $699 price tag… but it’s become somewhat more popular with bargain hunters after a series of price drops and software updates. Speaking of software updates, when Google releases Android updates, Essential has a habit of making them available within hours. Other phone makers often take days, weeks, or months — if they release updates at all.
That said, the Essential PH-1 wasn’t a top selling device. The company has only managed to ship one modular accessory so far (although a second is on the way). Plans for a smart speaker have apparently been scrapped. And earlier this year the company canceled plans for an in-development phone and considered putting itself up for sale.
So it makes sense for Essential to try to find a truly unique niche for its next phone rather than releasing a device that looks and functions just like every other smartphone on the market.
But I have to wonder whether there’s actually demand for this sort of device.
Sure, Google’s Duplex and the rumored Essential assistant features sound like the logical extension of “virtual assistant” software. Rather than just setting reminders, answering questions, and controlling your hardware, these next-gen features would let software interact with human beings for you (although maybe humans won’t be involved much longer — it’s not hard to imagine a world where you have your “assistant” call another “assistant” to book a hotel or restaurant reservation).
But while I’m occasionally surprised at how appropriate Gmail’s “smart reply” email suggestions can be, I’m not sure if I’d want to give Google the ability to use them automatically. The last thing I want is to accidentally respond to a message about funeral arrangements with “Great, see you soon!”
What about you? Do you want a phone that saves you from the hassle of talking to people? Or is part of the point of having a phone still to use it to actually, you know… communicate?