Google’s newest tool seeks to make our current news hellscape a little more bearable

Trying to keep up with the news might be aspirational, but these days, it can also be depressing. Between our impending ecological disaster, ever-rising racial and class tensions, sexual harassment accusations, and a government more suited for reality TV, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of terrible stuff out there. Google’s attempting to tackle this fatigue with a new tool for its Assistant that makes meaningful good news easier to find.

Designed to dole out a daily digest of positive stories simply, users can now just ask Google Assistant to “Tell me something good.” In Google’s terms, the company says many of us are wading in a “hope gap” — the idea that the more you focus on problems rather than the solutions, the more prone you are to feel fear and anxiety. The hope gap makes it easy to get trapped in a place where you can’t problem-solve.

Good news in the context of the Assistant isn’t uplifting empty calories à la Upworthy, but rather news that is focused on positive change happening out in the world. Google calls this “solutions journalism,” and it is meant to spark dialogue about how to make things better, rather than wallowing in how everything is terrible. For example, “good news” includes stories like how a university eliminated achievement gaps between white and black students, and how Iceland used unique tactics to curb underage drinking.

The undertaking is being spearheaded by Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that showcases potential methods of solving issues in the news items that it covers. It is an organization that has partnered with newsrooms like NPR, Huffington Post, and PBS to spread best practices for its optimistic brand of journalism, and 17 different universities use a SJN-specified curriculum. As an example of its successes, the SJN details an occasion when a newspaper motivated an entire community to decrease its rate of infant mortality.

The initiative falls in line with wider overtures across various tech companies that want to fix or improve the way we connect with each other on the internet. Both Facebook and Instagram now have tools that help you manage your time on social media, while Apple has made it easier for people to micromanage time spent on phones. Much discussion surrounding various platforms like YouTube and Twitter, meanwhile, are concerned with making sure users don’t walk away feeling depressed or burned out. Within that context, Google’s new feature comes across as another tech giant’s attempt to improve internet morale.

Google recognizes that this venture won’t necessarily fix everything, but it still finds exploring the experiment worthwhile given our current media landscape. If you want to give this a test run, just use any device with Google Assistant, such as a phone or Google Home — the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll hear something good.

Google is reportedly launching its own smart display later this year

Google has already given its blessing for third-parties to make Assistant-powered smart speakers with displays, but the search giant has yet to venture into this territory itself. That might change later this year, with a new report from Nikkei claiming that Google plans to launch its own rival to Amazon’s screen-equipped Echo Show later this year.

As with all rumors sourced from the supply chain, it pays to be skeptical. But insiders speaking to Nikkei say the company is preparing for a holiday blitz. “Google targets to ship some 3 million units for the first batch of the new model of smart speaker that comes with a screen,” one industry source told the Japanese publication. “It’s an aggressive plan.”

Smart speakers with displays (or “smart displays”) offer a number of obvious benefits. A screen makes it easy to tweak settings, look up information, follow recipes, or watch videos. They often work well in the kitchen, where hands-free screens are particularly useful. But despite these benefits, it’s not clear that the format can compete with tablets and laptops.

Lenovo’s Smart Display integrated nicely with all Google’s services.
Photo: The Verge / Vjeran Pavic

Google obviously thinks it’s a form factor worth experimenting with though, and in January introduced its Smart Display platform for exactly that purpose. JBL, Lenovo, LG, and Sony all signed up to make screen-equipped smart speakers and the first out the gates — Lenovo’s Smart Display — was a capable device. It was also a very Googly one, with slick integration with all of the company’s services, from Gmail to Calendar to YouTube. (The latter being something that’s only been available inconsistently on the Echo Show due to a corporate spat.) We could expect a similar experience if Google built its own smart display.

Google’s current smart speaker line-up includes the Google Home, budget Home Mini, and speaker-heavy Home Max. It’s a decent range, but not as expansive as Amazon’s, which has simile devices alongside the alarm clock-sized Echo Spot and larger Echo Show. We’ll hopefully find out if Google plans to go toe-to-toe with Amazon in these other categories before the end of the year.

You can now schedule routines on Google Home

Google Assistant introduced multi-step routines earlier this year, allowing for a combination of several actions (toggling lights, changing the thermostat, etc.) to be carried out with one command. At the time, it was said that Google was also planning to add the ability to schedule routines, but no timeframe was given except “later this summer.” Now, as Droid Life spotted on Reddit, it looks like the scheduling feature is rolling out.

As of yesterday, some users are seeing the option, which appears within the Google Home app. Tap Settings, then Routines, and then the “+” button to create a routine. If it’s available for you, there should also be an option to “Set a time and day (optional).”

Google Home routine scheduling

Image: Droid Life

This should be supremely helpful for people actively using the routines. You could schedule Google Home’s Morning Routine for when you wake up every day, prompting actions like taking your phone off silent and adjusting the lights automatically instead of having to ask Google every morning.

For the scheduled routines to run, a Google Home unit needs to be selected to run the actions. Once a device finishes running a routine, it will give an audio acknowledgement and notify you on your phone.