Google Assistant voice apps arrive on Android and iPhone — here’s what they can do


Google released its standalone Google Assistant iPhone app on Wednesday and made it possible for both Android and iOS smartphone users to access voice apps made by third-party developers.

These changes were two of about a dozen major Google Assistant announcements made this week at I/O, Google’s annual developer conference.

Since the launch of the Actions on Google platform six months ago, roughly 250 conversations actions or voice apps have been made by developers.

Try a few and you’ll see that finding quality Google Assistant actions is a crapshoot. Chances are you’ll either encounter a voice app with a rich experience and deep corpus of knowledge or you’ll run into a rudimentary, half-baked action that provides an underwhelming experience.

Fortunately, VentureBeat has kept a close eye on the fledgling ecosystem of voice-powered apps being made for Assistant, and we know what’s worth your time. Here are a few actions worth checking out.

The latest

The most recent standout actions available for Assistant include the eBay action, which will help you figure out a price range for basically anything. And this action, like the eBay ShopBot that utilizes Google’s AI services, will grow in value once it is able to look at photos of items you want to sell.

Share the Facts checks your statements and questions against hundreds of fact checks that have been carried out by nine news organizations, including Fact-Check.org, PolitiFact, and the Washington Post. The action was created by the Duke Reporters’ Lab at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Also, if you want to test the very latest actions, Google made a few of its own for I/O, its annual developer conference. The Google I/O 17 action offers a fair amount of knowledge about the conference and its many sessions, but it took more than one try to get it right. When it first debuted several weeks ago, the action was removed from the listing in the Google Home app, the first app to list Google Assistant actions.

My eyes nearly rolled out my head when I tried the I/O Photo Booth action. Also from Google, this action’s only purpose is to prank you into thinking the assistant is going to take your picture. Instead, it just tells you to come to Google I/O 2017 if you want your picture taken.

Deep knowledge

This is a title reserved for a select few actions. Most can only talk about a limited range of tasks or information. These actions count their knowledge in the hundreds or thousands of facts, and more than any others, these actions put the meat on the bone of Google Assistant actions.

Bird Song Skill knows the sounds of hundreds of birds from across North America. Learn enough of them and you can play the Bird Song Skill quiz. I can’t wait for this skill or one like it to be able to recognize my location or listen to the sound of a specific bird so anyone can become a true bird whisperer.

The YouVersion Bible was made by the same people who made Bible.com and is the most popular Bible app in iOS and Google Play app stores. This action is narrated by a human and can tell you any Bible chapter and verse you want to hear, or you can just tell it how you feel. Tell YouVersion Bible you’re angry and it will serve up Bible verses to address your mood. Tell this action you want to read the whole Bible in two months or two weeks or two years and it will create a reading plan based on your preferences.

WikiHow will tell you how to do thousands of things and can answer questions like, “How do I escape a bear?” or “How do I stop a flood?”

This action can pull information from more than 180,000 WikiHow articles, and that’s pretty powerful. Unlike most actions, WikiHow interactions are measured in minutes, not seconds. Longer answers are chopped up into sections and require you to say “next” to proceed.

Weather Sky and Time Machine also demonstrate encyclopedic knowledge. Weather Sky can tell you about the weather conditions in any U.S. city on any given day in the past century. Time Machine reads New York Times headlines and news rom any day ranging from 1851 to the present.

The Q&A Quora service was one of the first actions to be made available for Google Assistant, but Google Assistant says “Quora isn’t supported on this device,” so users should stay tuned.

There’s also the WebMD action that listens to your symptoms and tries to determine the cause of an illness, and The World Air Quality Index action that draws information from the World Air Quality Index Project to serve up data from virtually every continent on the planet.

Games and Entertainment

One new feature coming soon allows you to ask Google Assistant a question then see results with visual results on a TV via Chromecast.

Developers can now start making apps that incorporate visual elements, but the Able Style action was visual before this recent round of updates. It’s a men’s fashion action, and like Epytom Stylist or Amazon’s Echo Look, Able Style can give you daily fashion recommendations. Link your account with Able Style and it can give you a guided visual tour of clothing recommendations from the Able Style website.

Akinator will try to guess a random person you’re thinking of in 20 questions or less. Most recent games include Ding Song Coconut and Mystery Sounds.

The Value Adder action is meant to embody that person in your office whose love of buzzwords makes you roll your eyes.

The Tomato Reviews action reads Rotten Tomato movie review summaries and ratings.

My Favorite Poems reads you poetry. Each poem in the collection can be “pinned” or saved for later, so you can make your own collection of favorites as you listen to performances from actors and actresses.

Somewhere between games and news is storytelling. Earplay and Anchor are among the most popular offerings in this area on Google Assistant. They’re also very popular in the Alexa Skills store.

News

Not much can actually be seen in the Explore tab. News available to you here, including VentureBeat updates, is a small sliver of what is actually available.

To program news to play after you tell the Assistant “Tell me about my day” or anytime you ask “What’s in the news?” tap the three dots drop-down menu in the top right corner, then choose Account Settings, then News.

People can make their own choices about what news they want to hear or what sources they trust, but know that when it comes to news outlets on Google Assistant, all are not created equal.

Many of these actions rely on a reading service, while others feature show hosts and people clearly invested in their work. The difference in value between the two is immediately apparent.

Practical value

A fair number of bells and whistles and pointless fart apps have been made available for voice-powered intelligent assistants, but some actions are rather practical.

The CareGeneral action was made to help those working in elder care keep tabs on multiple individuals, while Ask My Buddy allows a person to contact family or friends if they fall and can’t get up or are otherwise debilitated.

This action was a lot more important before voice-activated phone calls were made available, but as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft bring calls and messaging to their intelligent assistants, Ask My Buddy begins to seem a bit redundant.

On the other end of the age spectrum, Baby Stats can help you monitor when your baby last ate and went poop, along with other things parents try to track.

Also in this category are bus and train schedule actions. Ask Google Assistant and it can tell you how long it will take to get from point A to point B, but these bus schedule actions were made to tell you how many minutes you have before a nearby bus arrives. Public transportation actions are available for London, Dublin, Atlanta, San Francisco, Singapore, and other large cities.

Busuu can teach you Spanish, while Chefling was made to tell you when perishable items in your fridge are going to go bad.

The Virtual Concierge guides vacation rental or Airbnb guests through their stay. It can answer dozens of customized questions created by the host and can address the basics, like house rules, restaurant recommendations, and of course the Wi-Fi password.

Finally, the Bartender gives you instructions on how to make cocktails, from a Manhattan to a Whiskey Sour. No surprise: This action is also available on Cortana and Alexa. Beer Guide and Wine Guide can help you understand the difference between an ale and an IPA or explain why you shouldn’t hate Merlot.

Smart home

Many of the integrations with popular appliances and brands announced thus far have come in the form of a Google Assistant action. These include Mercedes Me and BlueLink for Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz vehicles, Roomba for the iRobot vacuum, and new additions made Wednesday, including those for LG and GE Appliances.

Much like the News category division, many of the Wi-Fi enabled devices Google Assistant can control are not just available through third-party actions but can also be found in your Account Settings.

To see a list of the smart home appliances that are available separate from actions, go to your Account Settings and choose Home Control or TV and Speakers.

Read Google IO Stories Here

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