Google Assistant’s New ‘Ambient Mode’ Turns Some Smartphones into a Smart Display

Google today at IFA Berlin announced its new Google Assistant-related feature “Ambient Mode.”

Ambient Mode is a “visual overview” that replaces the lock screen of your charging Android device. It will make it easier to see calendar info, notifications, weather, reminders, music controls, and smart home controls, while a single tap on the widgets will give you fullscreen controls with a blurred background that isn’t stark white. When the device is not in use, it will display your Google Photos.

“With the Google Assistant, we’re helping you get things done around the house — whether your hands are full in the kitchen, you’re too tired to get up from the couch after a long day, or you’re rushing to get out of the door,” wrote director of product Chris Turkstra in a blog post. “With the Assistant now available in more than 30 languages and 80 countries… you have even more ways to get help, whether you’re at home or on the go.”

Whether you’re using Google Assistant on a supported smart display, phone, or tablet like the newly announced Lenovo Smart Tab M8 HD, Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab, Nokia 7.2, and Nokia 6.2, Ambient Mode will bubble to the top relevant notifications, reminders, playlists, and settings toggles whenever your device is plugged in and actively charging. After you’ve finished perusing them, it’ll transition to a slideshow of photos from a linked Google Photos account.

Ambient Mode is still being polished, but it looks more like the trimmed-down Google Assistant experience you traditionally find on mobile phones, as opposed to the fully optimized touchscreen experience of a smart display. You won’t be able to swipe down from the top for a smart home control panel, for example.

Still, the shortcuts and customizable screen are a nice touch to help bridge the gap between the phone experience and a smart display. Ambient Mode will help the tablets act more like a smart-home control center when you don’t need to take them on the go.