As our connected world becomes more focused around mobile devices, we are increasingly app-centric, eschewing the wider mobile Internet in favor of individual, native programs that fulfill specific purposes. The trend, however, poses a problem: these small walled gardens make it hard for us to find information unless we know specifically where to look.
A new startup called Relcy is now working on a way to solve this, by building a search engine that searches across all the content on your mobile device to help you find what you are looking for in a faster and easier way.
Still in stealth mode and launching by the end of this year, Relcy has already raised $9 million in funding from Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures and Omar Hamoui of Sequoia Capital as it continues to build its platform and hire more people for its team.
As founder Rohit Satapathy describes it, Relcy is taking a “PageRank“-style approach to searching and ordering results. The “mobile-only search engine” will index the content inside apps, link that content together, and then rank results “tailored for every user adding contextual relevance using proprietary algorithms and technologies.”
Relcy claims fast results supported by its own “linked knowledge graph” of what Satapathy says are hundreds of millions of “real-world entities” that will not just find exactly what you want, but also make inferences to predict what it is that you are looking for. “For a user this means, one single search bar or entry point, to seamlessly search and browse through the content inside apps (like they do on the web) – and going straight into the specific results inside apps,” he says.
Incidentally, Relcy will not overlook web content: “Theoretically, we support all of the above powered by our Knowledge Graph,” he says. “Whether to give preference to native content over web/web-apps is more a question about user experience, which we are exploring in private beta tests.”
Relcy is not the first startup that has tried to tackle the on-mobile search challenge. Companies like Quixey, coming from the direction of app search — that is, finding an app in a storefront that best serves your needs — and Everything.me are among those that are building search engines that bring together different data pools into a big, and more productive ocean. Satapathy tells me that the company is taking a different approach:
“Relcy has a very unique product in the mobile search space,” he tells me. “It’s pretty much built from scratch by solving the new and unique problems specific to mobile devices and apps. As a result, it sits on a powerful set of IP in both design and technology (similar to PageRank), and it owns its backend, data, and a massive mobile knowledge graph of hundreds of millions of entities.” He says this is in contrast to some of the other hopefuls in this space, who “rely on traditional web search engines to power search.” He says that this produces a “truly native” mobile search experience that is a “significant upgrade” to anything on the market today.
“What caught our eye about Relcy is their underlying technology and the entity graph that powers their search,” Omar Hamoui tells me. “This graph maps an ever growing number of logical entities and actions to their deep links within all manner of applications. The scope of potential applications for this not only means a significantly better search experience but also possibly one day providing the connecting layer that’s missing in mobile devices and apps. It’s still early innings in this area, of course, but we believe Relcy represents a significant step forward.”
Cross-platform, and long overdue
A lot of the big efforts that we’ve seen around search have been focused on Android, with lock-screen apps like Cover and Quixey addressing that market first for technical and critical mass reasons. Interestingly, Relcy will be coming out of the gates as a cross-platform product — to start with, iOS and Android, but “we intend to expand to other platforms and devices in the future,” Satapahy says — bringing to mind not just other mobile devices like connected watches but perhaps also the sometimes neglected Windows Phone platform, and the upstart Firefox mobile platform.
So given that app usage (and the app usage tipping point) aren’t exactly new, why has it taken so long for an effective cross-app search to hit the market?
The answer lies in the same reasons why Google wasn’t the first web search engine. “Building a native search engine for a new platform has its own set of challenges, most of which are because of unsolved problems, either known, or unknown and something you stumble upon as you dive deeper into the area,” he says. “As it happened in the web, it took a few years from the introduction of commercial web to the development of decent search engines” He believes that the mobile and app world is not that different. “It’s pretty young as a platform and technologies/standards are developing rapidly, so understanding the complex architecture and developing systems to support search have been quite challenging,” he says.
That will also mean more competition for Relcy and others. “This is an area ripe for innovation, and we should expect major developments in this field in the near future from the teams that have invested significant time and resources in understanding and solving the problem,” he adds.
That’s the problem in general. But, As befitting an app still in stealth, Satapathy is mum on a lot of details about Relcy itself.
How will it look? Like the newest cross-platform search facilities we’ve seen. (Read: Apple’s Spotlight as one example, I think.)
How will it monetize? “We’re heads down on building product.” (Although if you think of how search has worked in the past, advertising is an obvious route.)
There is another issue that Relcy could potentially solve, that of app graveyards. The Apple App Store and Google Play each now home to over one million apps. Some estimate that we are downloading up to 83 apps on average these days, although we are apparently only usefully using about two dozen of them. It could be a useful way of leading a person back into an app, and conversely it may be a wake-up call to developers to make apps more dynamic and less static.
Then again, Satapathy is clear to say that while Relcy hopes to revolutionize how we interact with what we have on our phones, it’s not meant to completely overturn how apps are already being built.
For example, I asked him whether it will be built around deep linking, one way that some tech companies are using to better search within apps. “We try to minimize dependencies — and so far in stealth we have built a mostly automated system and deep linking is just one of the many aspects of the experience),” he replies. “Going forward we intend to open up APIs and SDKs for developers and publishers to enable even more powerful integrations and features.”