Actions on Google

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The term "Actions on Google" refers to a service developed by Google that developers can use to link services they have developed themselves to Google Assistant. As soon as the third-party service has been tested, approved and released for publication by Google, it can be accessed on Google Assistant-compatible devices. Actions on Google is therefore equivalent to Amazon Skills, but only Google Assistant-enabled devices can be operated.

On which devices can an action be retrieved?

On the one hand, the published actions can be used via the smart speakers developed by Google Google Home and Google Home Mini developed by Google. On the other hand, they are also available on Google Assistant-compatible smartphones or tablets. Google serves both Android and iOS devices with Google Assistant. For devices that use the Android operating system, Google Assistant is fully integrated and can be activated by users at any time. For iOS users, a separate Google Assistant app has to be downloaded.

How can a published action be retrieved?

In order for users to be able to call the published action, so-called "Invocation Phrases" must be stored for the action within the Google Actions Developers Console. These are commands with which the user tells the Assistant to open a certain action. Up to 5 example phrases can be stored for the action. An example of a call could look like this:

  • "Ok Google, talk to BOTfriends"

How can a published action be restricted? 

The developer of a Google Action has various options for restrictions when publishing his action. On the one hand, the languages in which the action is to be available can be determined during publication (as of 21.06.2019: 19 compatible languages). On the other hand, device-specific restrictions can be set up. To do this, the following questions must be answered within the Google Actions Developer Console:

  • Does your action require audio output?
  • Does your action require a screen output?
  • Does your action require media playback?
  • Does your action require a web browser?

Depending on the answers to the questions, certain devices are allowed or excluded. If, for example, it is selected that a screen output is essential, the action is automatically excluded for the Google Home and Google Home Mini and is therefore not available to the user on these devices. Within the Google Actions Developer Console, immediately after answering the question, a table is displayed showing which devices were included or excluded.

How can a Google Action be developed?

Google itself describes two implementation options. The first and simple variant is a direct integration via Google Dialogflow. After the conception and creation of a voice assistant within Dialogflow, it can be published directly via the integration tab of Dialogflow without "developer know-how". This is a plausible option especially if Dialogflow is used as a Natural Language Understanding (NLU) service anyway. Another integration option is offered to developers via the Google Actions SDK. Here, Google provides client libraries for the creation of Google Actions. These are available for various programming languages. This variant primarily makes sense if full control over the interaction between Google Action App and user is to be guaranteed on the server side. Furthermore, this variant is indispensable if another technology such as Dialogflow is relied on as an NLU service.

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