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While mobile phones have transformed our communication and entertainment options since the smartphone age arguably began with the iPhone a decade ago, the ways we interact with these devices also continue to evolve, and one major step has been the voice-activated virtual assistant, like Siri or Amazon Alexa.

With these assistants, you can perform a number of actions more quickly and with less technical knowledge, because none of it requires digging around a phone's interface. It's become so handy that certain apps now come with their own assistants, in addition to those provided by the operating system.

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Today, the Pandora Music app joins this crowd on Android and iOS with an update that adds a "Hey Pandora" voice command for a variety of tasks. The company has partnered with SoundHound, makers of the music recognition app of the same name (download for iOS or Android) and Houndify, the latter of which is a "voice and conversational AI platform."

Of course, Siri and the Google Assistant can perform a dizzying variety of actions on your phone or tablet, but as the jacks of all trades, they are the masters of none; an app-specific AI can be more tailored to its users' specific needs, with commands that a general AI may not understand.

Pandora Music cites several examples of open-ended requests, such as "Play something different," "Play something I like" and "Play more like this." Without the necessary context, Siri, Alexa and the Google Assistant can have trouble figuring out what you're referring to.

You can also ask Pandora "What song is this?" The other three popular assistants can sometimes recognize music that's coming in through the device's microphone, but they won't necessarily be able to "hear" tunes being streamed through the device itself. So having an AI that can do that could give Pandora a leg up versus the competition.

Of course, as an app-specific virtual assistant, Pandora can't be talked to from the lock screen like you can with Siri or the Google Assistant. And it can't unlock your device, for security reasons. But "Hey Pandora" should at least make it easier to navigate the app's content and functions, when you have it open in front of you.

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Is this a good partnership for Pandora Music?

In May 2018, SoundHound obtained a valuation of $1 billion and counts many big companies among its investors, including Samsung, Tencent, Hyundai and Daimler AG (the owners of Mercedes-Benz), so this is no ordinary Silicon Valley tech startup.

Pandora itself is one of the most ubiquitous music streaming services in the world, to the point where it needs an online index to list all the devices where you can find it. SiriusXM (download for iOS or Android) has been one of its partners for many years, and it apparently liked Pandora's adaptability enough to purchase a controlling stake in the company for $3.5 billion last September.

The upshot is that SoundHound is a rising talent, Pandora is presumably flush with cash after its acquisition, and streaming apps must continually evolve to keep pace in a very competitive market. The result is "Hey Pandora" and the host of things that the app's new voice-activated assistant can do.

Takeaways

  • The Pandora Music mobile app has just been updated to include a new voice-activated virtual assistant; it responds to "Hey Pandora."
  • Beyond basic functions like playing and pausing music, you can use the assistant to identify a song and make open-ended contextual requests like "Play something different," or "Play something I like."
  • For security reasons, Android and iOS don't allow app-specific virtual assistants to unlock your device, so you will need your phone or tablet to be unlocked to use "Hey Pandora" commands and questions.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.