Google Assistant gets custom shortcuts for directly interacting with third-party Android apps

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Google Assistant is getting much more integrated with third-party apps on Android phones. Google is rolling out the ability to search apps and even use voice commands for popular tasks like sending messages, starting runs, or browsing your shopping cart.

While Assistant has supported opening apps through voice commands for some time, starting today, users will also be able to search within any app they have installed on Android directly from Google Assistant. And for developers that add support, Google is going even further, adding even deeper integration for Assistant to directly link out to common tasks or pages within an app using voice commands.

Previously, Assistant’s third-party support was largely limited to custom actions — effectively, apps that run within Assistant. The new functionality, though, lets Assistant work directly with apps that you have installed on your phone.

For example, you’ll be able to ask Assistant to pull up your YouTube subscriptions tab by saying “Hey Google, YouTube subscriptions,” while saying “Hey Google, My Instagram profile” will pull up your profile page within the Instagram app. (In perhaps the most ostentatious example of this, Google is supporting Nike’s Adapt sneakers, which you’ll be able to command to automatically lace up with your voice.)

To start, Google is rolling out support for around 30 applications from the top apps in the Play Store, including Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, TikTok, Spotify, Postmates, Discord, Walmart, Etsy, Snapchat, Twitter, Uber, and more. A variety of Google apps, including YouTube, Gmail, and Maps, are also included.

Developers will be able to add their own built-in integrations to their apps, enabling deep-linking for specific pages and app features, meaning that the number of apps that offer this level of integration should expand soon. Google is offering both a list of specific common functions (like posting within an app) along with the option to create custom actions, too.

To see which apps offer app-specific shortcuts, say “Hey Google, my shortcuts” to your Android phone, which will bring you to a new menu that shows which apps have shortcuts and allow you to activate specific commands. To use a shortcut, you’ll have to add it first to Google Assistant. Google offers a list of suggestions for actions based on the apps you use frequently, but you’ll also be able to view all possible actions on an app-by-app basis.

Shortcuts can also be edited with custom phrases. For example, instead of saying “Hey Google, tweet” to open the Twitter app and create a new tweet, you can customize it to perform that action with your own phrase instead, like “Hey Google, shout into the endless void.”

That said, while you can edit the trigger phrases for specific commands, you’re limited by the apps and options that each developer is offering. For example, right now, you can use a shortcut to create a new Facebook story but not a new Instagram one.

The new Assistant shortcuts aren’t as robust as Apple’s Siri Shortcuts app, which allows for far deeper customization and more complex routines (at least, for users willing to dive in and deal with the complexity of Apple’s system). But it does open up Assistant for a lot more use cases than were previously available. Assuming Google is able to continue to build out its deep-linking, it could help make Assistant even more useful and customizable going forward.

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