The Pixelbook is Google's flagship hybrid laptop, and the Assistant is front-and-center. (Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Microsoft launched Windows 10 in the summer of 2015 with an ambitious plan to get its operating system on 1 billion devices within the next few years. Due in part to the closure of the Windows Phone platform, that milestone has yet to be crossed -- and now it looks like Google will be crossing this threshold itself with the Google Assistant, its market-leading virtual assistant.

Today, Google announced that the Assistant will be available on one billion devices by the end of January. Google says that this number stood at 500 million as of May 2017, indicating a major expansion as of late. The additional access comes in part because of the introduction of the company's smart displays like the Home Hub, which launched in October 2018 at $149.

(The Hub is currently on sale at several stores online for $99; check the CNET review for more info and links to purchase.)

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Launched at Google I/O in 2016, the Google Assistant (download for iOS or Android) can be thought of as an evolution of the defunct Google Now. While the latter could use your voice commands to surface requested information, the Assistant allows you to have a two-way conversation with Google's AI, and it has a reputation for voice recognition and natural-sounding speech that exceeds the competition.

With the Google Assistant, you can ask for driving directions, stream media to a device, schedule items on your calendar, text your contacts, place phone calls and do many other things. CNET has a comprehensive list of pretty much everything that you can get the Assistant to do.

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How is the Google Assistant doing versus its rivals?

In its announcement, Google touted several other Assistant upgrades that may have contributed to its popularity, such as travel assistance in the air and on the ground, better integration with Nest devices and the Duplex upgrade to its speech patterns to make it sound more human. The company definitely hasn't been resting on laurels.

The Assistant originally debuted on Google's Pixel phones in fall 2016, and the app is now widely available for most iPhones and Android phones -- plus Android-based streaming boxes and TVs like the Nvidia Shield TV or Sony XBR-X900F, respectively.

In the virtual assistant marketplace, Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, and Amazon has Alexa. However, in our anecdotal experience, Alexa is much closer to the Google Assistant than its rivals in terms of voice recognition and natural-sounding speech, and it's available on more platforms like the Echo and the Fire TV. We'll see in 2019 if Google can maintain its lead.

Takeaways

  • The Google Assistant will be available on one billion devices by the end of the month, according an announcement today from Google.
  • This virtual assistant can send and receive texts, place calls, schedule your calendar, stream media, and perform many other duties; this AI also has a reputation for the most natural-sounding speech, and the best voice recognition.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.