Maybe the reason why Google isn’t giving a formal name to its personal assistant software is that it’s more than just one thing. Introduced at I/O this week is a new Android Awareness API that bundles all the sensor data from your smartphone or other Android device and presents it to apps, which can then act on that input to automatically assist you.
“You can use this information to build more assistive and aware applications,” says Google’s Bhavik Singh, product manager of the Awareness API. He offers a number of scenarios where smart assistive apps could help: projecting the day’s weather forecast on the nearest Chromecast TV, beaming out traffic alerts to your Google Home speaker to avoid being late for a meeting, or tagging photos with weather and activity data as well as location. In order to be so savvy, however, apps will need access to seven different parameters: the time and place (both type of place and precise location), your physical activity, any nearby wireless beacons, whether or not you have headphones connected, and the weather.
How many apps would you trust to know everything about you?
The Awareness API is essentially an extension of the context awareness upon which Google Now and Assistant are built. Google is just turning that into a package that app developers can also deploy. With greater awareness, your favorite music app might automatically predict when you’ll be working out and preload a suitably dynamic playlist. Or if you let your alarm clock know about your sleep patterns and work schedule, it might take it easy on you and give you an extra hour in bed.
The tradeoff for the user is, of course, a loss of privacy for the gain of greater automation. For most functionality to work correctly, access to your precise location will be required, and an extra activity permission will have to be provided for fitness and activity tracking. These controls are entirely at the user’s discretion, and Google asks developers to be as transparent as possible in disclosing what data they want access to and to provide clear access controls. Ultimately, it all depends on how much information you’re comfortable with handing over to your phone’s apps.