Google Assistant gets slew of new features, better 3rd party integration

If you find yourself using Google Assistant frequently, you may have realized that there's a lot it can do within the realm of general instructions like "raise the room temperature", or "turn on the lights" that don't particularly require intermediary support from the connected third-party appliance or program.

However, when you do need to give the voice assistant instructions very specific to the device or app it will be talking to, it more often than not ends up depending on two things: One, the third-party would have to have included support for the existing plugin-esque "Actions" approach Google has taken to tackle these specifics, and two, you would have to instruct Google Assistant explicitly to talk to a certain product.

For example, Todoist, the project management app, comes with support for Actions, in regards to hyper-specific commands to the app like "Mark the first task under Project 'make your graduation film' as done'". But before you get around to saying that, you'd have to also tell the assistant, "Talk to Todoist".

This decidedly inelegant middle-step is what Google seeks to mitigate with its latest update to the Assistant, giving us a bit more of a natural-language interaction with it when performing such commands with Google Assistant powered devices by third-party manufacturers. The company calls this addition Custom Device Actions.

An example the company cites is the distinction between a general instruction that goes "Turn on the oven" and the more specific "Set the oven to convection and preheat to 350 degrees". Google has worked with a group called Red Paper Heart to make an installation called Talk to Light that acts as a sort of artistic expression of Assistant's new ability.

Google goes a step further, demonstrating Assistant's new abilities with a custom-built robotic arm that follows Google Assistant's instructions to sort socks, and even a custom beer ordering system built into a sofa.

These zany abilities aside, Assistant now supports better media playback integration, extending its functions beyond just podcasts to TV shows, interviews and interactive stories, along with support for a better carousel inside the Assistant window for more convenient interaction with visual content.

Lastly, Google Assistant also now allows you to ask for periodic notifications from apps that support Actions, such as Forbes' "Quote of the Day".

This announcement comes amid cutthroat competition between Assistant and Amazon's Alexa with Microsoft's Cortana also promising a boost to its feature-set. All of this seems to point to a future which sees genuine benefit in talking to machines in public, possibly minus the awkwardness of it.

Source: Google Blog, Google Developers Blog

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