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Tech News

Google Assistant no longer needs every 'hey' and 'OK'

June 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Reuters

At last, you don’t have to call out Google Assistant by name every time when you want to issue a command. As promised at I/O, Google has made Assistant’s Continued Conversation available for US English speakers using a Home speaker. Enable it in your preferences and you don’t have to use “hey Google” or “OK Google” for follow-ups, even if you have multiple requests. Ask if it’ll be sunny tomorrow and you can both remind yourself to go the beach and put sunscreen on your shopping list, all without having to start the chat from scratch.

The approach works by leaving Assistant active for no more than eight seconds if it doesn’t hear speech. It’ll stay active as long as it believes that you’re talking, and will keep the LEDs lit on your Home speaker as long as it’s listening for your voice.

This doesn’t include Google’s vaunted multiple actions (where you can perform multiple commands at once). There’s also no word on when other languages will work with Continued Conversation. All the same, it’s an important step toward making Assistant feel more human-like. That, in turn, could make it welcoming to users who might be put off by the robotic language they’ve had to use with Assistant in the past.

Tech News

Google Podcasts is pretty but basic

June 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Google has a long and disappointing history with podcasts. With Apple and iTunes, they were always an integral part of the experience. For Android, though, it was an afterthought. Google Listen was barely usable, but basically the only option for getting podcasts on early Android phones. Two years ago podcasts made their way to Google Play Music, but they always felt shoehorned in and poorly thought out. Not to mention there were some pretty glaring holes in its library, including hits like Serial and S-Town. Now the company is taking another stab at getting podcasts right and, unfortunately, I feel confident in saying it has failed yet again.

The aptly named Google Podcasts is pretty. It looks almost exactly like the secret podcast app that’s been hiding in Google Search. (In fact, if you’ve been using that, you’ll notice your subscriptions already waiting for you here.) But it’s also pretty barebones, functionally.

The main screen is plain white with a grid of cover art for your subscriptions up top. Below it is a “for you” widget that alerts you to new episodes, shows what is in progress and downloaded locally. Below that is a series of short lists (10 entries at most) of top podcasts in various categories and recommendations based on what’s popular among others who subscribe to the same podcasts as you.

If you tap on the bar at the bottom that shows what you’re listening to, a shade pops up where you can scrub through the episode, jump back 10 seconds or forward 30, and change playback speed (from 0.5x to 2.0x).

If you click through to a show you can subscribe, play back specific episodes without subscribing (looking at you, Pocket Casts) and interestingly, even donate to some shows, like Song Exploder.

And … that’s basically it.

That may be enough for someone who subscribes to only a handful of shows and is always caught up. But it really only covers the basics. There’s no way to automatically download new episodes. And you can’t build a playlist if you like to queue up multiple shows.

When one episode ends, it automatically goes on to the next. And if you happen to be listening to the newest one, playback simply stops. Honestly, if audio playback just stopped at the end of every episode that would be preferable. Instead, if I fall asleep trying to catch up on Welcome to Nightvale, I’ll have to remember when I passed out and go back and mark all the episodes I missed as unplayed.

Oh, and there’s no quick and easy way to download an episode or mark it as played or unplayed. Google makes you tap through to individual episodes, rather than putting those controls in main show page. It makes banking a bunch of episodes of Dissect for a long plane trip a royal pain in the ass.

Discovering new shows is also unnecessarily difficult. While Google

Tech News

Google will fix Home and Chromecast bug that reveals your location

June 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Don’t look now, but your Google Home speaker or Chromecast could give away your whereabouts… for a little while, that is. Google has promised a fix for an authentication vulnerability that lets attackers obtain your location using the company’s devices as a conduit. While the necessary Home app on your phone normally performs most tasks through Google’s cloud services, others (such as setting a device name and WiFi connection) are sent directly to the Home or Chromecast without authentication. If you use domain name system rebinding software, you can exploit this to obtain nearby wireless networks and use Google’s location lookup services to obtain a position to an accuracy of a few feet.

An intruder doesn’t need to be connected to your local network — they just need to prompt you to open a link while you’re connected to the same network as one of Google’s affected devices. You also need to keep that link open for roughly a minute (the amount of time it takes to get a location), but that’s not necessarily difficult if there’s enough content to distract the target.

The fix is expected to arrive in mid-July. In the meantime, though, there’s a risk this could be used to add seeming legitimacy to phishing and extortion campaigns. A scammer could target you by focusing on your exact address or neighborhood, for instance, while a blackmailer could find out where you live and use that as part of a threat to release private info. No matter what, this is a reminder that smart home gadgets still have a long way to go before they’re truly secure. You have to assume that even mildly sensitive info transmitted in the clear can serve as an avenue for attack, and Google has learned that lesson the hard way.

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Tech News

Google Home now handles three requests at the same time

June 12, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Google Home speakers can already perform two commands at the same time. But what if you live in a particularly connected household, where you may need to juggle more tasks? The company has an answer: support three simultaneous requests. So long as you form full queries with “and” in between, you can multitask like a pro using only the spoken word. This could be particularly helpful if you want to turn on the lights, increase the temperature and play some tunes without having a Routine in place.

The feature is only available in predominantly English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, the UK and the US) at the moment. Google told TechCrunch it’s looking “forward” to supporting more languages, but there’s nothing more it can say.

Even so, this arguably represents the next step for smart speakers: handling whatever you ask of them when you ask for it, not just one or two items at a time. Your computer and phone can multitask, so it’s only fair that your voice assistant should do the same.

You’re not the only one who can multitask. Now Google Home can perform up to three queries at a time, so you can get more done. pic.twitter.com/7jTd97Evus

— Made by Google (@madebygoogle) June 11, 2018