While most of the world is still under quarantine, people have started to adjust to the new way of life (while still hoping it’s temporary).
The Quarantine period has also led to people re-imagine new digital tools and started incorporating them into their personal lives.
This has seen the rise of video conferencing tools like zoom for events like private birthday parties or for a middle school teacher giving a-lecture to 40+ students.
There has been a rise of services that can make life inside the home more comfortable (for obvious reasons!) and this includes voice technology.
As I had written in this previous post, voice tech has seen a steady rise since the past few years. Big companies wanting a piece of that have pushed millions of voice enabled assistants: Google Assistant on Google home or Alexa on Amazon echo.
With more than 150 million of smart speakers sold in 2019, there are enough intelligent virtual assistants in people's homes to be of help during the time of Corona pandemic.
While it is too early for these devices to have an impact on the frontline, these devices can definitely play a part in reducing the spread of the virus by making social distancing more comfortable and fun by helping people stay indoors.
In this post, we will look at the top 5 skills or services that you can use over your virtual voice assistant / smart speakers. We will cover services that work with Google Home but even if you own an Amazon echo device, it is quite likely that these services will also work on those devices.
Mental Health with Meditation
With social distancing measures and great uncertainty about the world, it is extremely important to keep a clear head. Meditation is a well known method that can help calm the mind and help you see past the uncertainties.
There are a variety of apps for meditation available on Google Home and alexa compatible devices, but the one I find to be most intuitive and helpful is called
Calm provides 5 minute guided meditation sessions that are quite effective and can be easily included in your daily quarantine life. If you are working from home during this time, I can recommend trying to do a few sessions a day, perhaps in between your zoom meetings.
To start using the app, you ask your google home
Hey Google, talk to calm
Once inside the app, Calm asks you if you want to meditate or sleep. When you choose meditation, it provides you with three options for guided sessions. If instead of meditation, if you select sleep, it gives you a further three options for sleep stories for grownups to choose from.
Guided meditation sessions are a great way to begin a meditation routine. However, if you instead prefer just some relaxation sounds, Google Home has you covered. It can play a variety of nature sounds like rainfall, waterfall, storm, river, forest, ocean and even a selection of white noise. Just say to your Google Home
Ok Google, play nature sounds to bring up a random selection or say
Ok Google, play the sound of rainfall for a specific selection.
Fight against Covid-19
Google is doing its part in helping the world fight the novel coronavirus. One of the steps in limiting the spread of the disease is to regularly wash our hands for at east 40 seconds.
Google Home made a feature to help people diligently wash their hands, all you have to do is ask. If you say
Ok Google, help me wash my hands, your voice assistant will play a soothing melody with a lyrics which lasts for 40 seconds helping you wash your hands for at least the minimum recommended duration.
Apart from help in washing hands, you can use your Google Home to stay updated on the latest coronavirus news. Since there are a lot of news outlets that give you a new bulletin update over your smart speaker, you can select the outlet that is most relevant for you and listen to a news briefing. As a routine, I like to listen to the news bulletin twice a day, once over my morning coffee and one towards the end of the working day.
Honestly speaking, I would have loved to see Google coming up with a special update on this topic which provided updated relevant information for me. I would have liked to be able to say
Ok Google, give me the latest on Coronavirus. Alas, it is not to be so far.
Podcasts and Audiobooks
For better or worse, most people have no commute to work anymore in the times of Covid-19. For many of us, this has led to a decrease in listening time of podcasts and audiobooks which was consumed during the commute time. To bring back the listening time, you can use your Google Home to play the content when you may be taking small breaks during the day or find another time of the day which suits you better.
Google Assistant has great support to play podcasts and it can play most podcasts natively. To play your podcast, you just need to ask for the name of the podcast you want to listen. For example to play the ‘Indie Hackers’ podcast just say
Ok Google, play the latest episode of the Indie Hackers podcast
For audiobooks, there are several options to play them on your Google Home. If you bought an audiobook on Play store, you can play them via the workaround described here in this support answer.
If you are looking to play books that are free/royalty free, then you can use the app Book Reader. It plays over 10k books available for free courtesy of project Librivox.
To use the Book Reader, all you have to say is
Ok Google, Talk to Book Reader. You can find all details about the app on its website here.
* Side note: I built the Book Reader app in my effort to read audiobooks to my son during this quarantine period. To learn more, take a look at this blog post.
Fun and Trivia
While in lockdown, we all need some fun and trivia to remain amused. Your Google home has just the right tricks for such scenarios.
In these uncertain times, I bet everyone wishes to have a crystal ball so that they can look beyond the present hardships and see how the world will be changed because of Coronavirus. Well, if you are one of those, worry not since your Google home happens to have a Crystal Ball. To use it, just say
Ok Google, use your crystal ball and let the magic begin.
If you are in the mood for some fun and games, then simply ask your virtual assistant by saying
Ok Google, let’s play a game. It should give you some options for games that it can natively support. One of my personal recommendations is Lucky Trivia. To connect just say
Ok Google, play Lucky Trivia. This magic command transforms your Google Home to a game show host and is a fun way to test your trivia knowledge by competing against your housemates or yourself.
These were my recommendations for using your Google Home more effectively during the quarantine period due to Coronavirus pandemic.
If you come across other apps or services that you would like me to include, please leave a comment below.
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Stay indoors, Stay safe and Happy listening!