I have secretly coveted the self-lacing Nike Adapt sneakers ever since they were announced—blame it on Back to the Future. The only problem was the price. I am unfortunately stingy as hell. So when Google said it was adding a whole bunch of third-party app integrations to Google Assistant, and that one of them was the Nike Adapt app, how could I refuse?
To back up a bit, the big news today is that Android users will now be able to ask Google Assistant to interact with more apps on their phone. That includes opening and searching within apps, but also more specific actions. What that boils down to greater hands-free access. In this particular case, I can now ask Google Assistant to tighten (or as it turns out, even loosen) a pair of Nike Adapt sneakers.
It seems like a totally unnecessary, ridiculous thing to ask a digital assistant to do. The way Google framed it, one scenario for why you might want this is when you’re rushing out the door and don’t have an extra second to tie your shoes. Which is kind of silly, but OK, I’m game if it ends up being a helpful feature.
In practice, I felt like a Grade A asshat. Not because of Google Assistant did anything wrong! The bit where I said, “Hey Google, tighten my shoes with Nike Adapt,” worked perfectly. I said the thing, my Pixel 4 XL opened the Nike Adapt app, and lo, my shoes tightened. It was pretty quick, but not quicker than me reaching down and tying my shoes. Or opening the Nike Adapt app manually and doing the same thing. My pets stared at me with their beady, judgmental eyes, and I quietly asked Google Assistant to loosen the shoes.
That said, it was kind of cool from an accessibility perspective. Maybe you don’t have full mobility in your hands, broke a finger, or are an amputee. For those folks, laces aren’t fun. Maybe it’s hard to bend down, in which case velcro shoes aren’t the best thing either. Asking your phone to help out in this instance would be useful. The thing is the Nike Adapts are expensive, and asking people with limited hand mobility to shell out just so they can do this party trick is…not in the spirit of truly accessible technology. Though the bones are there! Perhaps one day when this sort of technology is a bit more refined and affordable, it’ll be less douchey to ask an AI to tie your shoelaces for you.
I was also somewhat disappointed in the shoes themselves: The hype of the Nike Adapt sneakers didn’t live up to my wildest dreams. They were super tight when I wore them with socks and kind of uncomfortable despite being the right size. When they tightened it felt like a child was strangling my feet. The robo-shoes also sound like they’re screaming bleepy murder when you adjust. And I cannot stress the indignity of having to charge your shoes.
But you know what? Google Assistant at least did what I asked. Out of curiosity, I tried getting Siri to lace the Nike Adapts up via my Apple Watch, since this is apparently a thing it can also do. And as usual, Siri completely failed. Not only did the app not load on the watch, an issue I never experience, but Siri completely froze trying to figure out what I was saying. At one point, it just brought up a photo search of all the shoes in my Camera Roll, which OK, I guess? More proof Google Assistant kicks Siri’s ass.
The rest of the integrations were hit-or-miss when it came to usefulness. For example, asking Google Assistant to play a specific mix on Spotify? A+. Super helpful for living your best hands-free life. Asking Nike Run Club to start a run? I’m into it, especially if you’re someone who uses an armband for your phone when exercising. Asking Google Assistant to tell your chatterbox friend on Discord that you’re AFK? Useful! Telling MyFitnessPal to log a meal if I’m on the go? Neat! I’ll edit it for caloric accuracy later!
Some of the other options felt a little more like solutions looking for problems. Is it cool that I can ask Google Assistant to check the news on Twitter? Yeah! Except it’s just opening the app. I can also just launch the Twitter app with my fingers. It was cooler to search actual topics on Twitter and then have that directly open up. The only issue is that…you still have to scroll through everything.
Likewise, Google gave me a $25 credit to try ordering something on Postmates. I asked Google Assistant to order a smoothie. I was slightly terrified that I’d end up ordering a random smoothie, but Google Assistant just opened the app and presented a list of smoothies to choose from. It was cool this worked! But is it more intuitive than just launching the app and typing in smoothie? Hmm, I’m not quite so sure. (The smoothie was pretty good though.)
Some of this is that as a society, we’re still sussing out how much we want digital assistants to actually do. Sure, I can now ask Google Assistant to send snaps with a specific Snapchat lens, but I also don’t know anyone who hasn’t ditched Snapchat for TikTok. I’m not sure why I would ask Google Assistant to do an Etsy search for me, or why I’d want it to check my Mint accounts. It’s a matter of sitting down, experimenting with what commands actually work and which ones don’t, and then assessing what works for your lifestyle—a time-consuming process that not everyone is up for.
(In addition to the aforementioned apps, further Google Assistant integration is also coming to Citi, Dunkin, Paypal, Wayfair, Wish, Uber, and Yahoo! Mail, among others.)
In that vein, it can be frustrating when you forget the exact command to get what you want. “Hey Google, lace up my sneakers with Nike Adapt,” won’t work, for instance. That’ll just get you Google search results for Nike Adapt. You can, however, program a more natural shortcut for something like, “Hey Google, lace it up.” This is cool! It’s also work!
There’s also another important caveat: This is only for Android phones. If you, say jerry-rigged Siri on your iPhone to open up Google Assistant instead, you’re out of luck. Smart speakers and displays, like the Nest Audio or the Nest Hub, are also incompatible. It makes sense, but it’s also a frustrating reminder that digital assistants right now are incredibly siloed within specific tech ecosystems.
Despite the quirks, it’s swell that Google’s expanded what you can do with Google Assistant on your (Android) smartphone. Hell, there’s a reason Google Assistant is, in this blogger’s opinion, the best virtual assistant out there. I’m sure that going forward, things will become even more intuitive and less dependent on exacting phrases. But right now? I just wish I knew what to ask for half the time.