Lots of third-party alternatives to Apple’s Siri exist, and the promise of an AI-assisted ‘personal assistant’ has been the talk of futurists for what seems like an eternity (the tardy time keeping is in the job description). But one such offering — Maluuba — caught our eye when it launched at TechCrunch Disrupt last month. And today the Android app, which was initially only available in the U.S. and Canadian Google Play Store, sees its debut in the U.K, Ireland, and Australia.
Pitched as a “do engine”, like Siri, Maluuba uses Natural Language Processing to accept voice commands and queries to interrogate and search numerous third-party services — and take various actions, such as scheduling meetings, alarms and location-based reminders, or doing something as frivolous as sending a tweet. So, for example, ask it something like “What movies are playing in London this week?”, and you’re presented with movie show listings and viewing times in London, which you can then take action on, such as adding a reminder. As you’d expect, the app also tightly integrates with Google Calendar.
It covers around 18 discrete domains. These span restaurants, movies, and general knowledge questions (which, just like Siri) are powered by Wolfram Alpha. Yelp, Eventful, West World Media (movies), Rotten Tomatoes, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Weather Underground and Wikipedia are among the other APIs used by the service.
So far, so Siri (at least the Siri of old, before it was acquired by Apple). However, where Maluuba deviates from Cupertino’s voice-driven assistant is that the app doesn’t talk back at you, which may or may not be a good thing. Instead it relies solely on its Windows ‘Metro’-esque UI for returning subsequent information and issuing follow-up prompts.
To bring the app to today’s additional markets, Maluuba had to expand its data set to provide the needed local information, though interestingly, I’m told that no further third-party APIs needed to be plugged in. For example, when Maluuba first launched, movie data was available only for the U.S. and Canadian markets. In addition, it was biased towards the U.S. (i.e., it defaulted to imperial units of measure).
As for where Muluuba is heading next, the company is staying mum. “We cannot share those details right now, as product development in other countries is still being worked out”, says Maluuba’s People Experience Designer, James Simpson.
Considering that the startup has $2 million in funding from Samsung Ventures, one distinct possibly is that the app may find itself ‘on-deck’, pre-installed on Samsung handsets — though this is purely speculation on our part. In light of Google’s own preemptive virtual assistant, Google Now, it would be another way to put some clear water between Android’s stock offer and Samsung’s wares.
Smart TVs would seem to be a further possibility, something that Maluuba has hinted at in the past.
More broadly speaking, Maluuba says that it is working “aggressively” to expand its product on several fronts. “We believe that the future of mobile computing will be defined by personal assistants which can help you quickly complete your day-to-day tasks on the go. You should be able to pick up your mobile device and ask it just about anything and it will come back with an intelligible and most importantly a useful response”, says Simpson.
And although we’re back into futurist territory again, to make that future happen sooner, Maluuba is planning to release an API/SDK to allow third party developers to leverage its Natural Language Processing engine which drives its current offering.