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Google Assistant can now control Android apps

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Google today announced it’s making it possible to use the voice command “Hey Google” to not just open but also perform specific tasks within Android apps. The feature will be rolled out to all Google Assistant-enabled Android phones, allowing users to launch apps with their voice as well as search inside apps or perform specific tasks — like ordering food, playing music, posting to social media, hailing a ride, and more.

For example, users could say something like, “Hey Google, search cozy blankets on Etsy,” “open Selena Gomez on Snapchat,” “start my run with Nike Run Club,” or “check news on Twitter.”

At launch, Google says these sorts of voice commands will work with more than 30 of the top apps on Google Play in English globally, with more apps coming soon. Some of the supported apps today include Spotify, Snapchat, Twitter, Walmart, Discord, Etsy, MyFitnessPal, Mint, Nike Adapt, Nike Run Club, eBay, Kroger, and Postmates, Wayfair, to name a few.

If the specific voice command you would use to perform a common task is a little clumsy, the feature will also allow you to create a custom shortcut phrase instead. That means, instead of saying “Hey Google, tighten my shoes with Nike Adapt,” you could create a command that just said, “Hey Google, lace it.”

To get started with shortcuts, Android users can say “Hey Google, show my shortcuts” to get to the correct Settings screen.

The feature is similar to Apple’s support for using Siri with iOS apps, which also includes the ability to open apps, perform tasks and record your own custom phrase.

In Google’s case, the ability to perform tasks inside an app is implemented on the developer’s side by mapping users’ intents to specific functionality inside their apps. This feature, known as App Actions, allows users to open their favorite apps with a voice command. And, with the added functionality, lets users say “Hey Google” to search within the app or to open specific app pages.

Google says it has grown its catalog to include over 60 intents across 10 verticals, including Finance, Ridesharing, Food Ordering, Fitness, and now, Social, Games, Travel & Local, Productivity, Shopping and Communications, too.

To help users understand how and when they can use these new App Actions, Google says it’s building touchpoints in Android that will help them learn when they use certain voice commands. For instance, if a user said “Hey Google, show me Taylor Swift,” it may highlight a suggestion chip that will guide the users to opening the search result on Twitter.

Image Credits: Google

Related to this news, Google says it also released two new English voices for developers to leverage when building custom experiences for Assistant on Smart Displays, alongside other developer tools and resources for those building for displays.

The Google Assistant upgrade for apps was one of several Android improvements Google highlighted today. The company also says it’s adding screen-sharing to Google Duo, expanding its Verified Calls anti-spam feature to more devices (Android 9 and up), and updating the Google Play Movies & TV app to become the new “Google TV” app, announced last week.

On the accessibility front, it’s introducing new tools for hearing loss with Sound Notifications and others for communicating using Action blocks, aimed at people with cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, autism, aphasia, and other speech related disabilities.

The features are available now.

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Catch Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez live tonight on Twitch with HasanAbi and Pokimane

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A day after lighting up the internet by announcing she’d joined Twitch and was looking for streamers to play the breakout hit Among Us with, New York congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has plans to play Among Us with Hasan “HasanAbi” Piker and Imane “Pokimane” Anys, two of the biggest personalities on Twitch.

Piker is a popular progressive streamer, formerly of The Young Turks. (If you’ve tried to watch a political debate on Twitch this year, you’ve probably seen his stream.) Anys, on the other hand, is less explicitly political but is one of the most famous people on Twitch, with 6 million followers on the site.

The idea for the AOC Among Us stream is, naturally, to get out the vote — if you’re reading this and haven’t made a plan to go vote, do that! — and it promises to be quite a time. You can catch AOC live on Twitch at 9PM ET.

In other, presumably unrelated news, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota joined Twitch today. Her profile pic, naturally, is her as a Gundam pilot. The internet rules.

AOC and Omar are only the latest two politicians to join Twitch — Bernie Sanders started broadcasting to the site the night of the first Democratic debate for the 2020 election, and Donald Trump’s campaign also maintains a presence on the site. Let’s hope this isn’t the only time AOC decides to grace Twitch with her presence.

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Intel is selling its SSD business for $9 billion, but keeping Optane

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Intel is selling its SSD business to SK Hynix in a deal worth $9 billion, which will see the chipmaker almost completely exit the flash memory and storage business — except for Intel’s high-end Optane memory technology, which it’ll still be hanging onto. The deal includes Intel’s former NAND SSD, component, and wafer businesses, along with the company’s NAND factory in Dalian, China.

“For Intel, this transaction will allow us to further prioritize our investments in differentiated technology where we can play a bigger role in the success of our customers and deliver attractive returns to our stockholders,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan.

It’ll be some time until the deal actually takes place: the two companies are starting to get governmental approval for the purchase, which they don’t expect to get until “late 2021.” Until that happens, Intel will still continue to make NAND products at the Dalian factory and keep all its IP rights.

The move marks the latest consolidation for Intel, which has continued to focus further on its core chipmaking and data center businesses in recent months. Intel also recently sold its 5G modem business to Apple last year in a deal worth $1 billion.

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Apple HomePod update brings Intercom and other new features

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Apple HomePod owners, starting today, will be able to use the newly announced “Intercom” feature to send messages between their HomePod smart speakers. The feature, which arrives via a software update, brings this and several other new features to Apple’s smart speakers, including those introduced at Apple’s event last week where the company debuted its $99 HomePod mini.

Of these, Intercom is the most notable update, as it helps the HomePod catch up to rival smart speakers, like those from Apple and Google, which have offered similar broadcast messaging systems for years.

But in Apple’s case, Intercom doesn’t just send a user’s voice message — like “dinner’s ready!” or “time to go!” — across the family’s HomePod speakers. It’s also meant to work across Apple’s device ecosystem, by adding support for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and even AirPods and CarPlay.

This could be a competitive advantage for HomePod, particularly because Amazon — which leads the U.S. market with its affordable Echo devices — no longer has its own smartphone business.

However, Apple says Intercom’s expanded support for other devices isn’t being rolled out today. Instead, it will arrive through further software updates later this year.

To use Intercom, HomePod owners with multiple devices can say things like:

“Hey Siri, Intercom, Has anyone seen my glasses?”

“Hey Siri, tell everyone, Dinner is ready.”

“Hey Siri, Intercom to the kitchen, Has the game started?”

And to reply, users can say something like “Hey Siri, reply, Yes.”

In addition to the new support for Intercom, the software update also introduces deeper integration with Apple Maps and iPhone, the ability to set and stop timers and alarms from any HomePod, the ability to continue listening to a podcast with multiuser support, and more.

The deeper integration means HomePod owners can now ask Siri for information about traffic conditions, as well as nearby restaurants and businesses. A Siri suggestion will then automatically appears in Maps on your iPhone so the route is available as soon as you get in the car.

HomePod owners can also now ask Siri to search the web, which then sends results to the iPhone.

Two other new features will arrive later this year, including the ability to connect one HomePod (or more) to Apple TV 4K for stereo, 5.1 and 7.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos for movies, TV, games and more.

The other upcoming feature, called Personal Update, will soon let you ask Siri “what’s my update” or “play my update,” to get all the info you need to start your day, including news, weather, calendar events, and any reminders.

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