Google's aptly named Assistant AI helper will soon be accessible from third-party input devices and not just keyboards, based on a recently noticed commit pushed through to the Chromium Gerrit. The commit itself doesn't give away many details except that Google Assistant has been added to the list of actions that can be mapped to input. Documents associated with that change indicate that won't just be tied to keyboards.
More accurately, the documents indicate that third-party manufacturers and Chrome OS OEMs will be able to program a human interface device (HID) to launch "a desktop assistant." HID can take a variety of forms ranging from keyboards to gaming controllers to simple buttons linked via Bluetooth or USB.
How could this be used?
There isn't necessarily any indication that the change will be limited to Chrome OS but it does seem to be limited to desktops. So, for now, that's probably going be the most common way it will likely be put to use. That doesn't necessarily impose any limitations on exactly how it will be used though.
"HID" can essentially be applied to any device that allows input from a person to their computer, meaning that it fits such a wide assortment of accessories that the possibilities could be endless. The most visible possible implication of the new code is that hardware manufacturers themselves can begin adding their own Assistant key or an extra hardware key that accomplishes the same task. They might just allow users to remap a key of their own choosing to do the same thing.
The code change could allow third-party manufacturers to create dedicated keys that can simply be taken from device to device and plugged in or connected wirelessly across basically any ecosystems where Google Assistant is enabled.
The change might allow for more novel approaches too. For instance, Samsung might choose to launch a new Chromebook with a new S-Pen that features a clickable button to launch Assistant.
Since Chrome-enabled devices will have access to Assistant through the dedicated Stadia gaming controller, it's not out of the question that manufacturers of other compatible controllers from any existing console or third-party OEM could build Chrome into their gadgets too. That would enable a more consistent across that cloud platform regardless of whether the official peripheral is used.
For example, Microsoft may be able to ensure that the Xbox button at the center of its controller can access Stadia's Assistant when the player presses that key.
How might this impact Chrome OS?
The biggest drawback to the change is that it does seem expressly tied to Chrome and Assistant. So users shouldn't expect to see new AI cropping up or support for alternatives stemming from this. Right now there are also very few desktop systems that support Google Assistant, to begin with. Even in terms of Chrome OS, native implementation of Assistant wasn't added to the search giant's own Google Pixelbook until late last year.
Conversely, the currently limited availability of Google Assistant for desktop systems could point to even better news for fans of the AI. With the added ability to remap that to other HID, there is more incentive than ever before for OEMs to work on implementing it. More directly, more Assistant-compatible HID means that Google will have more motivation to finish the arduous task of ensuring compatibility.