Google has officially launched the Family Bell proactive alarm feature for Google Assistant we previewed last week. Google is pitching Family Bell as a tool specifically for parents who can’t send their kids to school due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, but it’s the new option to broadcast only to specific rooms and devices that will likely have a bigger impact for Google Assistant users.
Family Bell lets users set up reminders during the day that Google Assistant will announce with words, not just an alarm. For parents who need help keeping their kids on track during the school day, the feature comes with preset suggestions to announce when it is time for a class, or a break, or lunch, among other events. Users can also customize the alerts with any text they choose. The school-specific alerts come with sound effects related to going to class, as well as visuals for when the alert is on a smart display. Google Assistant will also now include a bit of educational information. If asked for the animal of the day, the voice assistant will share facts about an animal, along with sounds it makes, an image if it’s a smart display, and suggestions of activities to learn more about the animal.
“While heading back to school won’t be the same this year, Google is helping families like mine stay on track with new features like Family Bell, communicate better with targeted broadcast messages and make learning from home a little more fun,” Google Assistant senior director of product management Lilian Rincon wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature. ” For example, one of my bells helps keep my son on track by saying, “Hi Superhero, it’s time for math!” You can create and manage bells on Assistant-enabled Android and iOS phones to play on smart speakers or Smart Displays in your home.”
Along with setting the time for each alarm, users can also adjust where it will play. The settings for each Family Bell include a list of devices on the same connected network so you can have an announcement about school starting just in a child’s room, or that it is time for a meal in whatever area is designated the classroom. This isn’t just for alarms, either, the announcements, like the earlier broadcast feature, can be made whenever a user wants, with the request to Google Assistant mentioning where the user wants it played. It becomes a lot more like an intercom.
“A popular feature on Google Assistant is the ability to broadcast and reply to messages around the house, and starting to roll out today, you can broadcast to a specific room or device—making it even easier to communicate at home (no shouting needed),” Rincon explained. “So when I’m working in my bedroom office, my husband can broadcast a message to me by saying, “Hey Google, broadcast to the bedroom, ‘breakfast is ready!’”
With so many families limited in how much time they spend away from home and without a lot of opportunities to be alone, this feature could be great for letting people have space while still being connected. As a customized alert system, it could also be handy for reminding people of essential tasks. That may be a reminder about a work assignment, a phone call with friends, or even telling the user when it is time to take some medicine, and explicitly saying which medicine and how much to take like many healthcare-focused smart devices are starting to do.