Google Assistant has a new option that will allow it to tell you the weather without shouting it to the entire room or interrupting your music. The new silent response option is available through your Assistant settings, in the same area where you tweak settings related to its voice.
The easiest way to get there is through the compass icon shown on the bottom right of your screen when you summon Assistant. After that, tap on "Settings", then "Phone" in the Assistant tab, and finally "Voice and speech".
The option to change voice responses to Hands-free only is the one you want. This means that Google Assistant will only speak out loud in response to a query when you're using a handsfree device.
When the new setting is active, Google Assistant will act the same way it usually does, except that it won't read the results out loud or otherwise respond by voice. This means that you can use it in conjunction with Assistant's ability to accept text input to interface with the AI without making a sound. Naturally, this also applies when you speak to Assistant out loud.
While that seems counter-intuitive, it does have its possible use cases, such as allowing Assistant to read out personal results and information like your text messages without others overhearing.
Curiously enough, this option does not seem to extend to Chromebooks, which seems like one of the better use cases for such a feature.
It is worth noting that this feature's introduction does not change how Assistant treats Do Not Disturb or other quiet modes. Turning this new option on is the only way to quiet Assistant down, aside from simply turning down your media volume.
Additionally, the feature seems to only be available on phones for now, though other Assistant-enabled devices with screens may see the feature in due time. There is also no way to disable the Assistant voice when you're using a hands-free device, so if your phone is hooked up to a car audio system, Bluetooth headset or other hands-free gear, you're still stuck hearing Assistant rattle off answers.
This new capability finally realizes the dream of totally silent Google Assistant use, something that was already possible with the text input mode, but at the cost of having to keep your media volume muted.
All of the same Assistant goodies and abilities that one would normally enjoy are available in this mode, which makes it a great alternative for those who simply don't have a good use case for Assistant's voice output capabilities. The newly mute Assistant doesn't seem to be sporting any other new features to go with this addition.
Google has been moving toward unifying and streamlining experiences across its suite of apps and services, and giving users the option to use Assistant silently is certainly a step in the right direction. Little changes here and there have been painting a more cohesive picture of Google's defined product experience over time, as well as expanding use cases.
Adding more public transit options to Google Maps is a great recent example on the user side. At the same time, Google recently changed Android's branding by eliminating dessert names in major OS versions, another step toward streamlining the product experience.