At long last, the first Smart Display for Google Assistant has arrived. A joint effort between Google and Lenovo, it kicks off a new wave of screen-centric smart speakers that look good on a counter, sound good when playing music, and make the Echo Show less good by comparison.

But the best part of the Smart Display isn’t the industrial design or 10-inch Full HD display. It’s Google’s interface. Where the Assistant and Alexa interfaces on Android phones and the Echo Show are rudimentary visual representations of our queries, the Smart Display doesn’t just let you see what Google Assistant is thinking—it expands and enhances Assistant’s abilities with an intuitive marriage of touch and voice.

Google’s smart display UI combines the elegance of Material Design with the proficiency of Android and the smarts of Android Things into an OS that feels like the future. And it very well may be. It’s smart, light, and responsive in all the ways Android isn’t, and it gives Google Assistant a real platform for development, one that might be coming to a phone near you.

From Robot green to Assistant pink

One of the tech world’s worst-kept secrets is that there’s a hidden project deep with Google’s labs called Fuchsia that represents the future of Android and Chrome OS. According to numerous reports, the platform has been in development for a number of years, but recent evidence suggests that it’s closer than ever to realization.

smart display cardsMichael Simon/IDG

The Smart Display uses cards to bridge the gap between touch and voice.

In a report earlier this month, Bloomberg News had this to say about Fuchsia: “At the moment, Android, which was developed when phones were just beginning to use touch screens, is also not built to handle the type of voice-enabled apps that Google sees as the future of computing. So Fuchsia is being developed with voice interaction at its core. The design is also more flexible in that it adjusts to multiple screen sizes—an attempt to cater to the new products, such as televisions, cars and refrigerators, where Google is spreading its software.” The key here is flexibility for vastly different screen sizes, something that Android doesn’t really have.

That’s the beauty of Google’s Smart Display OS. While it’s nowhere near as powerful nor versatile as Android, it’s easy to see how it could scale down to a phone with Google Assistant at its core.

As it stands on Android, Google Assistant operates on a separate layer on top of the system, helping you navigate deep menus and apps but basically working as a shortcut to things like Chrome, Settings, and Spotify. On the Smart Display Assistant is central to the experience, taking you places you can’t get to with your fingers. You can still tap and swipe the screen, but Assistant runs the show, popping up when you need it and displaying exactly the information you asked for. You might be able to get the same information on your phone, but on the Smart Display there’s a tight level of integration with the whole system that gives Assistant a starring role.

smart display infoMichael Simon/IDG

Google Assistant has never been smarter than it is on the Smart Display.

I used this example in my review, but I’ll repeat it here: When you ask, “Hey Google, what’s an allosaurus?” it will tell you that it’s a dinosaur that lived 150 million years ago just like on your phone. The Smart Assistant takes it further from that point, showing a picture, breaking out additional facts such as the dinosaur’s estimated land speed, and offer a series of links for deeper exploration. It sure seems like a precursor to the kind of smart thinking we’re going to get in Fuchsia.

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