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Smart apps think (so you don't have to)

Mike Elgan | March 11, 2013
A new generation of free intelligent assistant apps represents the future of everything. But are they too smart?

Another app, called Grokr, uses a scrolling interface similar to EasilyDo's. The two apps are often compared to each other, but Grokr is very different from EasilyDo. Grokr focuses on traffic and weather, it shows you news and other articles based on your interests, and it lists trending stories. I have found Grokr not particularly useful. The information seems generic, and it doesn't seem to learn.

And then there's Google

Google produces the most mind-blowing intelligent agent services for consumers from a technology perspective. Unlike EasilyDo's services, Google's tend to be informational rather than action-oriented.

Of course Google Now is probably the single most impressive piece of agent technology generally available. If you have the right kind of Android device, Google Now can replace search, giving you answers rather than search results. Best of all, it understands everyday language and learns from your results. Over time, it suggests things based on your preferences.

It's reasonable to assume that Google Now will show up everywhere, including on the Google Search page, in the Google Chrome browser and even on the iOS platform as an app.

Google this week released its Field Trip app on the iOS platform. (It had previously been available only on Android since September.)

Field Trip is interesting for its location-awareness and proactivity. As you're walking around, it can buzz your phone to tell you about interesting things nearby. It learns your location from your phone and then finds information about that location from Zagat, Scoutmob, Cool Hunting, Yesterland, Curbed and Thrillist.

An app called Spindle is vaguely similar to Field Trip, but it only works in six U.S. cities: Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle.

Another interesting app in this category, called Tempo, replaces your iOS calendar with a smarter one.

Tempo can snatch information from your iPhone's Mail, Contacts and location to improve what happens with your Calendar. For example, if you have a call, it will grab the number for you. If you have a meeting, it can give you details about the person you're meeting with (from Contacts and Linkedin).

Tempo is also designed to give you estimates of drive times, even allotting time for parking.

Tempo was created by some of the same software people who created Siri, and it really does things Siri should do by now.

The new intelligent agent apps and services are fun to play with, can keep you informed, and can make you far more productive. All of them are free and easy to use, but they're not trivial.

In fact, these products represent the future of computing.

Over the next few years, almost every app we use and every website we visit may function less like a machine we're using and more like a person helping us to do our work and live our lives.


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