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From Google I/O: YouTube how-to videos are about to get way more useful

Google's developer conference shows a roadmap for making your smart display into a home improvement sidekick.


Learn how to cook or learn anything else with templates.

Brian Bennett/CNET

My eyes glazed over at a meeting at Google's Mountain View, CA headquarters last week ahead of the Google I/O developer conference. Here, Google representatives briefed us on "templates" and "markups." I woke up when I found out what those things can really do. While lots of the announcements from the company's developer specific keynote at Google I/O are focused on the distant future, a few could have a significant impact on current Google gadgets in the next few months.

In particular, the templates and markups I mentioned could make Google's smart displays like the new Google Nest Hub Max better at walking you through complex tasks. The templates apply to YouTube videos, and the markups could apply to any website. Imagine watching an instructional video on YouTube, but instead of just watching it straight through, you can see the steps outlined on the side, and can scroll through those steps and tap on one to skip forward and backward as necessary.

The sample I saw was a video showing how to use a compass from REI, the camping gear retailer. It reminded me of the way smart displays walk you through cooking instructions now, but with even more interactivity. If you don't want to see the steps, you can tap on the video to make it full screen. You can scroll through steps with voice commands as well. Each written step also showed a time code so you can tell how much you're skipping if you jump to a later step.

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Given the wealth of instructional content already on YouTube, I'd imagine templates could be used for everything from home improvement DIY videos to video game walkthroughs. Smart displays are already helpful in the kitchen, but they could be much more useful in the rest of the house if they can help you complete a personal project. You should just be able to ask your smart display to show you how to knit or how to fix your toilet and then let the built-in Google Assistant take it from there.

While templates are meant for videos and smart displays specifically, markups can make websites richer so you can see similar step-by-step instructional breakdowns after you do a search on a phone or your internet browser. Google will just find the instructions and lay them out for you as part of the search results without you needing to click through to the website.

You'll start seeing these helpful instructions on your smart display and smartphone over the next few months.

Deep into apps

Google is also rolling out tools to make Google Assistant better at navigating apps on your phone. The company is launching "app actions" in partnership with a few companies like Dunkin and Paypal. Ask Google Assistant in your phone to send money to a friend or order donuts, and it will launch the appropriate app and navigate through the menus to follow your instructions.

The actions essentially allow developers to create deep links, so Google Assistant can do more than just launch an app. It can interact with the app and follow directions once the app is open. At first, these actions will work with apps under the following categories: health, finance, ride-sharing and food.

While pushing a few buttons to order food isn't hard, Google can allow you to do more with your voice and keep your hands free. Look for the first integrations to go live this summer.

Since Google is pitching its community of developers on app actions, templates and markups this week, we could see a lot more creative uses of each in the near future.

Here's everything we've learned so far at Google I/O 2019.  

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