Why are virtual assistant apps so shy?

The industry has been promising apps that interrupt us with important contextual information. So where are they?

By , Computerworld |  Hardware

We've been on the brink of a new relationship with our gadgets for years.

"Real soon now," we're told, mobile apps will interrupt us with personalized information we never asked for. These interruptions would show us opportunities ("Those shirts you like are half-off at the store around the corner"), facilitate our social lives ("Your friend Janet is also visiting New York and is free for lunch -- would you like to invite her?") and save our bacon ("You haven't ordered a flower delivery for your anniversary -- would you like me to take care of it?").

What are they waiting for?

Apple's Siri responds impressively but doesn't take the initiative to interrupt much.

MindMeld is supposed to ship to general availability an app that churns out information related to your video conversations. The technology and platform look impressive, but the purpose of MindMeld's proof-of-concept app will be context for conversations, not mobile personal assistance.

EasilyDo is supposed to give you predictive results, but like most in this category, you have to work for it. The results are a fraction of what you want, actually harvesting data from social networks, calendars and location-oriented databases and placing them in a stream.

EasilyDo performs a wide variety of useful tasks like contacting people for you, telling you when to leave for your meeting, getting directions, automatically creating new contacts and many other things. EasilyDo automates tasks to simulate a personal assistant, but it doesn't do anything you haven't specifically commanded it to do. It doesn't interrupt you proactively with contextual information beyond things like telling you to leave for your next meeting.

Osito is another cool app that suffers from the same lack of creative interruption as EasilyDo. It's more of a rollup of the kinds of information you can get elsewhere, but presented in a stream with some pop-ups. It's more about automation than contextual assistance.

Foursquare just got interesting. The company rolled out a test version of Foursquare that throws advice and context at you when you walk into a restaurant or around a neighborhood. ("Try the cheese fries in this place -- they're incredible.")

Checking in isn't required. In fact, the information will pop up even if the Foursquare app isn't running. Now that's what I'm talking about.

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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