The Google assistant makes for a pretty awesome companion on the Pixel phones and Google Home, but it's still young and feels constrained by the very limited number of things it can do outside of Google's sandbox of supported services. During the October 4th announcement, Google declared plans to open up the platform in early December for developers to build their own services. Staying true to that schedule, the Actions on Google platform opened the door today, allowing developers to integrate their services. Google is also launching an early access program to begin testing new features and upcoming expansions.
Today's announcements by Google have certainly given us a lot to look at in terms of new hardware and features – and possibly a case of sticker shock. But while the show was mostly dominated by new gadgets and demos of Google assistant, there was a really important addition for developers (and ultimately users) at the tail end of the event. Google intends to turn assistant into a major ecosystem for apps and services by opening up the platform to developers.
The platform is called "Actions on Google" and it will allow developers to deliver custom experiences through Google assistant. Google assistant can already take advantage of many existing capabilities like app indexing, deep linking, and even the Voice Interaction API to provide helpful answers and services.
YouTube's Offline Playback feature was first introduced alongside Music Key back in November, finally giving people a way to store a (limited) selection of videos for trips into areas with poor connectivity, or just to avoid using up capped data plans. While it has remained mostly unchanged in the last 8 months, the latest update finally brings a few modifications. The interface is now a bit more informative and uniform, and there's a new low-quality option (which is actually a good thing). A teardown also revealed some big improvements to the voice command interface that has been in the works for a while.
After the launch of Music Key in November, we've had good reason to expect quite a bit from YouTube. We've seen things like 60 fps live streaming, 360-degree videos with cardboard support, and big updates to the Kids and Creator Studio apps – and that's just some of the stuff from the last two months. We also know there's plenty still to come, particularly an ad-free subscription model. The latest update doesn't seem to deliver any new features, not unless Google is planning to flip a switch server-side, but it gives a few hints about what to expect in the future.
joaomgcd's apps are usually about pushing your phone to do more with just your voice and some Google Now command integration, and Touchless Chat is no exception. The app takes the idea of interacting with your phone via voice commands and applies it to one area where I personally wished Google Now and Wear were better: sending messages to your contacts (ie initiating a conversation instead of just replying).
There are many layers to Touchless Chat and many ways of initiating a chat with a contact, but before we get into that, you'll need to give the app some permissions, mainly for accessibility, notification access, and device administrator. That's a lot of leeway, but it's the only way the app can work, so just be thankful that it doesn't require root as well.
Over on the Android Developer's Google+ page an awesome new feature for Google's voice search was just announced. A small selection of applications will now open directly when using certain voice commands. For example, you can now say, "Ok Google, find houses near me on Zillow," and Google will automatically start the Zillow app, showing a map of properties near your current location (this also works with the applications for Trulia and Realtor.com). Previously a query like this would have directed you to Zillow's mobile site and given you a link to download Zillow's app.
Let me give you a few more examples of what you can do with the new voice commands.
A little less than one year ago, I called the OnePlus One "the best flagship phone you can't buy" in my initial review. The phone had some impressive hardware at an amazing price, and in many ways it still does, but the system of invitations and qualifications built around actually buying the One made obtaining the device an exercise in frustration. It's taken them eleven months (and what seems like dozens of separate promotions and half-measures), but you can finally order a OnePlus One without an invitation of any kind starting today.
IR ports are becoming a thing again with flagship devices from Samsung and HTC now commonly sporting them. They aren't used for terribly slow data transfers like back in the old days, but for controlling TVs and stuff. The built-in apps on the phones are okay, but Smart IR Remote is in a league of its own, and now it's added voice commands through Google Now. Take a gander at this video and be impressed.
The app needs to be added as an accessibility service so it can pipe commands through Google, but that's nothing to worry about. When that's done, you can start talking to your phone to control the TV.
Have you ever been in a situation that warranted the need for instant access to your phone's camera? Then you fumbled around, unlocking things and swiping all over, only to miss the moment. Shame, really. If only there were a way to grab your phone and say "take a picture!" and make it happen.
Google apparently knows your pain, so you know what it did? Added "take a picture" to the voice actions in Search. For good measure, "take a video" (or "record a video," as shown in the above image) is also an option. So instead of swiping to the camera from the lockscreen* or unlocking and tapping an icon, you can now launch Now and tell it to take a picture or video...