Google is making it easier for drivers who use the Waze Android app to navigate without distractions with the recent announcement of some brand new voice interaction features delivered via Google Assistant.
Rolling out today for Android handsets in the US with support for the English language -- for now -- the update will allow drivers to not only interact with Assistant for media playback, messaging, and other standard tasks for the AI. Now, they'll also be able to utilize Waze-specific interactions simply by speaking while navigating, helping drivers keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.
For example, a driver will now be able to say “Hey Google, avoid tolls” to redirect their current route away from any toll roads.
Or they might ask the AI to report traffic and other obstructions or delays that are typically shown in Waze. Upon using the latter command, the app will use their current location to send in the report so that other Waze drivers can see where slow-downs are happening, just as it would if they were to use touch inputs to report the problem.
Continuing convergence with Google Maps
Google initially bought Waze back in 2013 and has steadily been working to bring the app and its own Google Maps application into alignment ever since. Work toward that end has increased over the past several months, leading to some speculation as to whether or not those would eventually be merged.
Aside from Assistant integration, among the most recent hint of that was seen back in January, when the company added both crash and speed trap alerts to Maps. Those are features similar to what's already been found in Waze for quite some time but, in a twist of irony, didn't go unnoticed when added to Google Maps.
Shortly after the update shipped out and the features became widely available, a letter sent out by the NYPD to Google demanded that it stop telling users about police activity.
The note insisted that Google was interfering with the department's ability to enforce the law. In particular, that was with regard to dangerous drivers because the app allowed drivers to report speed traps and other areas where police activity was increased -- purportedly allowing drunken drivers and others to avoid detection.
As noted above, that feature has already been available in Waze as a way to both inform drivers of delays and encourage safe driving, with the same goals in mind for the Maps integration.
Plenty of new updates have been added outside of the apparent goal to merge the companies too, such as the ability to listen to music via Deezer -- added in February of this year. So Google may or may not actually have plans to bring the apps together in the long term.
When is this coming everywhere else?
While Google would ordinarily provide a vague timeline regarding when users could expect the voice commands might become available in other languages within the US or outside of the region, it has opted not to for this announcement. So there's a very good chance that expansion on those aspects is planned but not at any point in the near future.
There's been no indication from the search giant as to how long the update will take to roll out either but updates to standard apps typically take just a few weeks to hit every user's device.