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5 reasons virtual assistants will soon replace apps

Sahil Mohan Gupta
Sahil Mohan GuptaMay 11, 2016 | 09:14

5 reasons virtual assistants will soon replace apps

If you look at all the tech giants - Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon - there is one area all of them are keenly interested in. Personal assistants and bots which work on the basis of artificial intelligence (AI).

Admittedly, Apple, Google and Microsoft have been in this space for a couple of years, but 2016 is the year when these technologies could start to have a telling impact on the way people use their gadgets and services. In fact, for many including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “Bots will be the new apps.”

More than the biggies, start-ups are doing some unique and disruptive things.

On Monday (May 9) night, at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, Dag Kittlaus, co-founder and CEO of Viv, showed his new AI-based personal assistant which seemingly was a step above what Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Search or even Amazon’s Alexa are capable of doing.

Kittlaus, of course, comes with pedigree. He was the guy behind Siri and he joined Apple when it acquired the company. Subsequently he, along with many of his engineers, left Apple to start Viv.

With Viv - an AI virtual system - some complex queries can be asked unlike any other virtual assistant in the market. You can ask it if it will rain in San Francisco’s Golden Gate area three days from now at 5pm. You can book cabs or order flowers with its help. Viv is being seen as a platform just like Google Play or Apple App Store for developers to tap into.

These AI-based virtual assistants and bots will be the next big thing after apps on the smartphone. Here’s why:

1. You don't need to know about a particular app and then learn how to use it. Using an app involves multiple steps, right from the acquisition of the app to the completion of a query. You have to download an app, then place it on your homescreen or inside folders, then learn its interface and finally, ask it to do something. This process is quite slow. Virtual assistants will be much faster because they will reduce the steps needed to get a task done.

2. Microsoft, Google, Amazon and even Viv are touting these virtual assistants to be platforms for third parties. Eventually, there will be one big platform which will be like an app store, but the difference will be that you will not need to know that Uber or Ola, for instance, are the ride-sharing services you need to use to book a cab, but you may simply put in a query for getting a cab from place A to place B and you will get options based on the services that are integrated with the assistant or bot. You may also ask it do complex things like book a bouquet of tulips, which is a very specific query.

3. Virtual assistants and bots which are self-learning can be trained over time to suit the users' needs. Viv is dynamic and has the ability to rewrite its own software in a matter of seconds, which means it adapts to the query very fast and is not limited in ways Siri is currently on the iPhone. Microsoft’s chat bots are a good example of this. They can book a hotel room for you in a matter of seconds, on the basis of your previous choices.

4. These are voice-based user interfaces on most occasions. Microsoft’s Skype/Cortana bots are conversational but text-based. They, however, do know the context of the conversation and understand your queries. Apps often are one-dimensional and don't understand the context.

Virtual assistants will thus be more interactive. They understand the context of what the user is asking.

Even Alexa on the Amazon Echo speaker can book you Uber cabs. But with Viv, things are even more impressive as you can ask for a text that will book a cab for six people, and it will know the type of car that needs to come to carry six people.

5. The big deal about all these technologies is that they will scale beyond one platform or phone OS. That means they will be ubiquitously available to users irrespective of their devices. Incompatibility with devices has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks of the virtual assistants that are currently available.

Siri, for instance, is only for iPhone users, Google Now works on Android and iOS but on iOS it is very limited, and Microsoft’s Cortana works on Android and iOS. On Windows it is better, but most people don't use Windows, so it becomes redundant.

Last updated: May 11, 2016 | 09:14
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