Today’s tech news: Google unveils new ambient mode with its assistance


Google has quietly released a new Android feature called the “Google Assistant Ambient Mode,” a new screen Google is calling a “proactive experience” your phone can kick over to while it’s charging.

Ambient mode is built into the Google Search app and takes over the lock screen any time you charge the phone. The new ambient mode shows a quick greeting message at the top, followed by your calendar, weather, upcoming flights, and notifications. Below that is a quick settings section that shows things like a do-not-disturb toggle and smart home controls for lights and thermostats. There’s also a photo frame mode. It looks like a handy screen that could pop up when you’re just charging your phone before bed.

There’s no blog post on this new feature, only a single YouTube video. In the video, Google Assistant Product Manager Arvind Chandra Babu says the new screen is about “moving from an app-based way of doing things to an intent based way of doing things. Right now users can do most things with their smartphone, but it requires quite a bit of mental bandwidth to figure out ‘Hey, I need to accomplish this task, so let me backtrack and figure out what are all the steps I need to do.'”

The argument that tapping through apps is cumbersome sounds a lot like the argument for Android home screen widgets, which can show the same kinds of calendar, weather, and smart home controls that the new Ambient Mode is aiming for. The difference is that home screen widgets are customizable, and this new ambient screen is not. We got it up and running on a phone, and it just is what it is—you can’t control things like which smart home controls you want to see or customize the quick settings. These limitations could seriously restrain its usefulness. Home screen widgets were even available on the lock screen in older versions of Android, so this just seems like Google is resurrecting the same idea, only less customizable and controllable.

you can enable the feature by opening the Google Search app, tapping on “more,” “Settings,” “Google Assistant,” then the “Assistant” tab, then scroll down to “Phone” under “assistant devices,” then scroll down and find the “Ambient Mode” checkbox.