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Google Assistant keeps gaining skills, adds new Listen tab for Google Home app

Google Assistant still has a ways to go before catching up with Amazon’s Alexa, but the scrappy device is already proving its mettle with the addition of an ever-increasing number of skills. In late January, the latest batch of skills acquired by the tech giant’s smart home assistant were all conversation actions from third-party developers that included such crucial information as the best wine pairings to go with your dinner, and whether your dog’s dinner is actually safe to eat. Now, just a couple weeks later, Google Home has added another 10 or so new services, including breaking news from CNN and air quality alerts from the World Air Quality Index Project. Most recently, Google added support for iHeartRadio.

While Google Home has long had an option for your radio needs via TuneIn, it’s now adding another provider to the mix with iHeartRadio. It appears to still be in the process of rolling out — getting stations to actually play via the service is still a bit dicey. But you can try your luck by saying, “Play [station] on iHeartRadio.”

Google has also added some more music features to its Google Home app, thanks to a new Listen tab. It’s described as “a dedicated space for all your favorite music,” and promises to make it easier than ever to find your perfect playlist. With the Listen tab, Google Home owners can check out curated lists of ready-to-stream, personalized albums and playlists from a number of music apps, including Google Play Music and Spotify. And once you’ve found that perfect playlist on the Google Home app, just ask Google Home to play it.

In terms of other skills, having a virtual sommelier at your disposal certainly sounds like a worthwhile perk, and that’s precisely what My Wine Guide offers by way of its new Assistant integration. Simply ask your smart home hub what you should be drinking with your lamb chops tonight, and you’ll get an expertly tailored answer.

Then there’s Dr. Doggy, which serves as an on-demand AI vet so that you don’t always have to rush Fido to the pet doctor whenever he eats a bar of chocolate.

As for the CNN update, Google Home owners will now be able to access the news service by way of the “first action that delivers topic-based TV coverage in near-real time on the device,” CNN announced. Google Home owners will get news directly from anchors like Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, and John King just five minutes after it’s been broadcast.

“We’re excited to grow CNN’s suite of products in the voice services space by bringing our real-time, conversational news experience to Google Home,” said Joshua Silverboard, senior drector for emerging products at CNN.  “Google Home and other voice platforms like it are creating new paths to bring personal, engaging experiences to our audiences. Our custom action on Google Home and the platform that powers it are early in their evolution, but this product is a great example of CNN’s continued efforts to reach and engage our audiences in unique ways, wherever they are.”

Other new actions include a new skill from SimilarWeb, which will tell Google Home owners the top referral websites for a keyword, its costs-per-click rate, and the number of queries about it.

The addition of these 10 actions brings Assistant’s total list to more than 80. While that’s about 1/100th of the amount offered by Alexa, Google seems intent on chipping away at that lead. So far, the AI system can tell you about public transportation schedules in countries across the world, including Singapore, London, and Prague, and can also keep you updated on other public services like trash pickup or public pool times.

It’s not too shabby, considering that the Actions on Google platform was debuted just two months ago. And at the very least, the brands that have jumped on the Assistant bandwagon are nothing to sneeze at — WebMD, Food Network, BuzzFeed, and HBO’s Westworld all have skills available on the Google hub.

While Google Assistant conversation actions currently remain exclusive to Google Home, they will soon be made available on Pixel smartphones and other Google devices sometime this year.

Updated on 03-15-2017: Added news of Google Home app update, which now includes a Listen tab. 

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