Google Acquires Emu, An IM Client With Siri-Like Intelligence

Google has acquired Emu, a new mobile messaging application that just exited beta earlier this year. Emu was at heart an IM client, but it differentiated itself from the crowded market with smart features that incorporated a virtual assistant not unlike Siri to automate tasks based on your conversations – meaning you could do things like schedule appointments to your calendar, set reminders and even make reservations at a restaurant directly from your conversations.

Emu’s roots were deep; its co-founder and CEO Gummi Hafsteinsson is ex-Google and ex-Apple, where he worked on Siri after coming on board following that startup’s acquisition. Emu works a lot like Google Now, too, scouring your conversations for contextual information about your life and plans in order to provide recommendations in-line about booking appointments, restaurant ratings and reviews and even things like movie suggestions.

In fact, Emu, which debuted as an Android application, looks like it can offer a lot to Google if the company is intent on continuing to grow the influence of Google Now across its properties, and extend its capabilities beyond the contextual launcher where it currently resides. Messaging is a new mobile battleground for big tech companies, and a potential motivating factor in attracting and keeping users within a particular ecosystem – Apple is focusing heavily on iMessage with its iOS 8 update, and in OS X Yosemite, adding multimedia messaging features, refining group chat, and making it easier to get your messages on all devices, regardless of what kind of device the person sending them is using.

It’s easy to see Google potentially using Emu’s tech in Hangouts, which itself is evolving into a central, multi-featured hub for communications on Android, and leaving behind its origins first as simply a video calling service and later as a text communication tool. Messaging could become the home base for mobile in the same way that email is in many ways the HQ for desktop computing, at least in terms of P2P communications (the browser rules for content consumption) and Emu’s tech could be instrumental in truly evolving it past what it is now.

Emu says it will shut down the standalone Emu app as of August 25 as a result of the acquisition, and it will cease to work for existing users. Emu had raised $1.5 million from KPCB, Kleiner Perkins, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Menlo Ventures and others. No financial details regarding the acquisition were disclosed.