Google's Android voice assistant just got a lot more powerful, now lets you open and search apps

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Sundar Pichai, Alphabet CEO.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google on Thursday announced that its voice assistant can now open and search through some of the most popular apps available for Android phones.

That means you can now do more specific things with Google Assistant besides just opening an app. You can ask it to open Walmart and search for fishing poles to buy, to send a message on Snapchat or to order food from Postmates.

It’s Google’s latest way to make Google Assistant more powerful against rivals like Apple‘s Siri and Amazon‘s Alexa, but I also think it’s one way Google is trying to get people to search by voice more, and it could help it better understand how people are shopping on their phones.

At launch, there are 30 popular apps that support the new features, like Walmart, Spotify, Snapchat, Dunkin‘ Donuts, Twitter, Nike Run Club, Instagram, Nike Adapt, Reddit, Mint and Discord. It says more apps with custom commands are coming soon and any developer can add custom queries. But, Google told CNBC that almost every single Android app this week will work for search. So, for example, I was able to ask Google Assistant to search through the Best Buy app for laptops.

I like that I can now say “Hey Google, order iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts,” and get the ball rolling on an order, but it doesn’t go beyond bringing up the iced coffee page and doesn’t yet let me place the order for pick-up or delivery. Likewise, you can search for a fishing pole in Walmart, but you can’t say “OK buy that one.” For those tasks, you still need to pick up your phone. And, for now, it’s hard to tell which apps support the new voice commands and which don’t. You have to check a settings menu inside Google Assistant to find out.

It’s similar to Apple’s Siri Shortcuts

Apple allows something similar on the iPhone with Siri Shortcuts.

These are commands that developers can build into apps and that you can then speak to open and launch specific actions in an app. So, on an iPhone for example, you can ask an app like TripIt to show you upcoming travel details. 

There’s a difference between how Google and Apple implement the tie-in, though. After you install an app, you can just say something like “check news on Twitter” and Google will open Twitter and show you the latest news. With Siri, you have to set up the commands first.

How to customize Google Assistant Shortcuts

You can see the commands supported by apps on your Android phone by speaking: “Hey Google, show my shortcuts.”

Some apps let you simplify the commands. Nike Adapt lets you use your voice to automatically tighten the laces on Nike’s Adapt shoes, for example. Instead of using the default “Hey Google, tighten my shoes with Nike Adapt,” you can choose to say something more simple, like “Hey Google, lace my shoes.”

Here are some examples Google provided that work now. If you have the apps installed, these commands should just work right away:

  • Discord: “Hey Google, send a message to Rachel on Discord”
  • Etsy: “Hey Google, search for candles on Etsy”
  • MyFitnessPal: “Hey Google, log a berry smoothie on MyFitnessPal”
  • Mint: “Hey Google, check my accounts on Mint”
  • Nike Adapt: “Hey Google, tighten my shoes with Nike Adapt”
  • Nike Run Club: “Hey Google, start my run with Nike Run Club”
  • Postmates: “Hey Google, order a smoothie on Postmates”
  • Snapchat: “Hey Google, send snap with Cartoon Lens”
  • Spotify: “Hey Google, find Motivation Mix on Spotify”
  • Twitter: “Hey Google, check news on Twitter”
  • Walmart: “Hey Google, when is my Walmart order arriving?”

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