Google Assistant removing 3rd-party voice apps on Nest Hub

All of Google’s major consumer platforms, like Android and ChromeOS, allow for third-party developers. In the case of Assistant, Google is making a change to focus on Android and will essentially no longer allow third-party voice experiences – including apps and games with visual interactions – on Smart Displays or speakers.

Google announced today that “Conversational Actions” will be deprecated in June of 2023. Activated by “Hey Google, talk to [x service],” it was announced in 2016 as the first way for third-party developers to integrate with Assistant. Before today, Google advertised it as such:

Build rich and natural conversations

Build custom voice and visual experiences for smart devices such as phones, speakers, and displays.

Priority: Assistant + Android

Google is getting rid of Conversational Actions to focus on “App Actions with Android” from 2019 as “users want to engage with their favorite apps using voice, and developers want to build upon their existing investments in Android.”

The new approach is to just have developers add voice control capabilities to their existing Android apps instead of creating an entirely independent experience from the ground up that was device agnostic. In all, that made development harder and came about during the early days of voice assistants when many companies were experimenting with the new interaction method.

This Android focus is not limited to just phones and tablets as these Assistant experiences also work on watches (Wear OS), televisions (Google/Android TV), and cars (Android Auto/Automotive). Recent improvements include having Assistant “direct users to apps even when queries don’t mention an app name” and opening a Play Store listing if the necessary application isn’t installed. Another example is surfacing App Actions (shortcuts) in Pixel Launcher search.

Assistant voice apps not so much

However, what’s left out of that new push is Assistant Smart Displays and speakers, where you were most likely to use Conversation Actions, which were also known as “Actions on Google.” That said, usage of pure voice apps on those two form factors was not that high.

The disappearance that’s going to be slightly more impactful is that of Smart Display games. To adapt to the Nest Hub’s screen, Conversation Actions introduced “Interactive Canvas” so developers could build applications with both touch and voice input. This loss, including trivia puzzles and picture books, will be most felt by those that leveraged Smart Displays as family devices, but Google told us that it’s still very much focused on use cases for children.

As part of today’s announcement, Google said it will “continue investing in all of the popular Assistant experiences users love, like Timers, Media, Home Automation, Communications, and more.” There are No changes to third-party smart home integrations or media (music, video, etc.) experiences.

Existing Conversational Actions developers are directed to this page for more details as Google ended on the following note:

Looking ahead, we envision a platform that is intuitive, natural, and voice-forward – and one that allows developers to leverage the entire Android ecosystem of devices so they can easily reach more users. We’re always looking to improve the Assistant experience and we’re confident that App Actions is the best way to do that. We’re grateful for all you’ve done to build the Google Assistant ecosystem over the past 5 years and we’re here to help navigate the changes as we continue to make it even better. We’re excited about what lies ahead and we’re grateful to build it together.

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