Google Assistant opens to apps in December, and hardware makers next year

Google isn't wasting any time with opening up Google Assistant to third parties in order to catch up to Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft.

Google Assistant, the search giant’s new personal digital assistant, is barely available to users, but Google isn’t wasting any time opening it up to developers. During the company’s hardware event on Tuesday, Google announced two new developer programs to build Google Assistant into pretty much anything you can think of.

“Going back to Google’s earliest days we’ve always worked hard to create healthy open platforms,” said Scott Huffman, who leads the Google Assistant engineering team. “The Google Assistant will be our next thriving open ecosystem.”

The first new program is called Actions on Google, which will launch in early December and allow app makers to build Google Assistant into their services. The Embedded Google Assistant SDK, meanwhile, is coming in 2017 and can put Google Assistant in pretty much any device you can think of.

Actions on Google

Google says there will be two different action types that will be available to developers: Direct Actions and Conversation Actions. Both are fairly self-explanatory, but to be clear Direct Actions are requests like “dim the lights,” “play my evening mood playlist,” or “play Narcos on Netflix” (coming soon).

Conversation Actions, on the other hand, are for when you need a back-and-forth conversation with Google Assistant such as making reservations, buying tickets, or ordering food.

Google says a number of companies are already building Google Actions into their apps, including CNN, Foursquare, IFTTT, Jelly, LinkedIn, Netflix, Todoist, The Wall Street Journal, and WebMD.

Google says that in the future Actions on Google will work in three different “interfaces”: pure voice interactions, text-based conversations, and hybrids of the two.

Embedded SDK

Huffman didn’t say much about the Embedded Google Assistant SDK, but from what he did say it sounds like the SDK will be wide open. “We imagine a future where the Assistant will be able to help in any context, from any kind of device,” Huffman said. “Whether you’re tinkering with a Raspberry Pi in your basement, or you’re building a mass market consumer device you’ll be able to integrate the Google Assistant right into what you make.”

Why this matters: Google sees a future where you can just ask your Google-powered device to do something for you, and the Assistant will make it happen. For that to work, Google needs major app makers to build Assistant into their offerings. Putting Google Assistant in non-Google hardware will also help encourage that effort. Google is announcing this compatibility a little behind the curve, however, as the company’s competitors are already doing the same. Amazon’s Alexa passed the 1,000 mark for third-party integrations (Amazon calls them skills) in June. Microsoft is also hard at work wooing third-parties to add support for Cortana on Windows 10 devices. Apple, meanwhile, recently announced its own third-party Siri SDK for app makers, which officially rolled out to six select categories of apps with iOS 10 in September.

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