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Google removes ‘underutilized’ Assistant features to focus on ‘quality and reliability’

Google has announced that it will eliminate at least 17 features from its Assistant product, following news that it had laid off “hundreds” of employees from the division. The company is cutting “underutilized features” to “focus on quality and reliability, it wrote in a blog post, even though a good number of people may still rely on those functions.

“Beginning on January 26, when you ask for one of these features, you may get a notification that it won’t be available after a certain date,” wrote Google Assistant VP Duke Dukellis.

The company didn’t specify how removing certain commands will improve Assistant, nor did it describe any specific quality and reliability problems. It did say, though, that improvements in the past were aided by user feedback, so it may have been receiving complaints about Assistant’s core usability of late.

The 17 functions being removed include: accessing or managing your cookbook; using your voice to send an email, video or audio message; rescheduling events in Google Calendar with your voice; and using App Launcher in Google Assistant driving mode on Google Maps to read and send messages, make calls, and control media. It also describes what Assistant can still do related to those functions, or alternate ways of doing them. A list is here, though Google said they’re just “some” of the affected features.

The company is also changing the way Assistant works on your phone. The microphone icon in the Google search bar will no longer pull up Assistant, but merely start a Google voice search, “which is its most popular use case,” Dukellis wrote. The “Hey Google” hot word and power button long-press will continue to activate Assistant as before.

After laying off 12,000 people last year, Google said it planned to focus on AI in the future, so it’s interesting that one of its early AI products is being pruned. Earlier today, Google confirmed that it had laid off hundreds of people from at least three divisions, including Assistant, hardware devices and core engineering.

At its October Pixel 8 event, the company announced plans to launch Assistant with Bard, a version that generates personalized answers based on events, dates and conversations stored on your phone. However, Google didn’t say if that version has anything to do with cutbacks in current Assistant functionality.

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