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Google Assistant will soon be on a billion devices, and feature phones are next

Google Assistant will soon be on a billion devices, and feature phones are next


Active users have quadrupled since last year, but Google won’t disclose a concrete number

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As CES kicks off, Google has a massive presence: monorails, a booth that’s three times larger than last year, and likely a giant pile of news to announce. But ahead of all the actual product news, the company wants to beat its chest a little by announcing some numbers. By the end of the month, it expects that Google Assistant will be on 1 billion devices — up from 500 million this past May.

That’s 900 million more than the number Amazon just gave us for Alexa. But just like Amazon, Google’s number comes with caveats. In an interview with The Verge, Manuel Bronstein, the company’s vice president of Google Assistant, copped to it. “The largest footprint right now is on phones. On Android devices, we have a very very large footprint,” he says. He characterizes the ratio of phones as “the vast majority” of that billion number, but he won’t specify it more than that. Though he does argue that smart speakers and other connected home devices comprise a notable and growing portion.

The “vast majority” of those billion devices are Android phones

In addition to the billion milestone, Google is also pointing out that Assistant now works in 30 languages and is available in 80 countries. Global active users have grown four times year over year, too. That last stat is not super useful, of course, because we don’t know what the active users number was last year.

So while these are new numbers, they’re not necessarily informative numbers. Just as with Amazon, the main thing you can take away is that Google has hit a big enough scale to be able to claim it’s got an honest-to-god platform on its hands. And so the next step is expanding that platform to work on as many new devices as possible.

For Google, the next billion devices will come in emerging markets, specifically on feature phones. Here’s what Bronstein has to say about them:

There are large, large numbers of feature phones in the market today — hundreds of millions. ... But if you think about writing, reading, and typing on those feature phones, it’s not that simple. And the voice-first interaction is becoming increasingly important in those markets, and we’re beginning to see traction there. We’re going to start talking more about that at Mobile World Congress, but definitely, there’s a massive opportunity for voice interaction and assistive technology in those markets as well.

We won’t get the full details of what Google has planned for feature phones until February. But in the meantime, given Google’s massive presence here at CES, there’s sure to be a ton of other announcements to pay attention to in the coming days.