What is your 'intent'? Google Assistant opens door to chatting with third-party apps

But as ever, users, you don't need to yell into the phone... it's not the 1970s


In a much-anticipated move for Android phone users, Google has tweaked its Assistant to let users interact with third-party apps – including Spotify and Twitter – using their voice.

The long-overdue feature, which is only available on the English-language version of Assistant, lets punters perform a series of pre-specified actions across roughly 30 popular apps.

Perhaps predictably, many of the apps selected are Google's own, including YouTube, Gmail, and Maps. You can, for example, use the feature to create a new email or access your existing YouTube subscription.

In addition, users can now create their own custom shortcuts – although only for the handful of apps currently supported. Mountain View is somewhat late to the party here – similar functionality has been available in Apple's Siri for some time.

Google has extended this functionality to third-party developers in the Android ecosystem, with actions and pages "deep linked" to specific voice commands. As detailed in the Google Assistant documentation, devs can either use pre-built common commands, or create their own custom instructions. The aforementioned common commands encompass the most routine of features – like searching for content, or opening a specific view within an app.

Commands – dubbed "intents" – are defined in an XML document, with developers expected to anticipate the various permutations of a query. For example, "make a post" could be phrased with the verbs "craft", "use", "write", "submit", and so on. Given Google's prowess in conversational AI (Assistant can, for example, call restaurants and make reservations on your behalf), it's more than a little surprising that legwork has been shifted to third-party devs.

Although developers have historically been able to write integrations for Google Assistant, the scope was limited, with the emphasis placed on experiences that functioned within the confines of the Assistant app.

Hey, ho, let's Go

Separately, the ads giant has started giving users of "full-fat" Android access to the svelte "Go" versions of its most common applications.

The first app to be unshackled is the minimalist Gmail Go, which ejects many of the more sophisticated features found in the mainstream version, including integration with Google Meet, while keeping the most essential of functionality. This allows it to measure less than 10MB in size. Other optimisations include a simpler, less taxing UI and support for slower, less-reliable cellular networks.

First introduced in 2017, Android Go is a pared-down version of the world's most popular mobile operating system. It's designed to operate smoothly on devices with limited capabilities, with the initial specification supporting phones with less than 1.5GB of RAM. This was later increased to 2GB RAM with the launch of Android 11.

Other commonalities of Android Go devices include slower processors, low-resolution displays, limited storage (often as little as 8GB), and support for previous-generation cellular standards. Many aren't even capable of using 4G.

There's no word on when Google will start rolling out its other "Go" apps to the wider public – e.g. Assistant Go, YouTube Go, and Google Maps Go – but we've asked. ®


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