French startup Snips is launching its first product today, an iOS app that is supposed to make your life easier by letting you view and search your data more easily. Snips is a personal assistant that helps you know where you need to be and when.
When you first launch the app, Snips wants you to grant access to your location, calendars, contacts, motion sensor and Gmail account. Then you’re good to go.
The main screen shows a tiny map at the top, a search bar in the middle and a list of events at the bottom. When you open the map, you can add layers of information. For instance, you can see your event locations, your favorite places, your friends’ places, etc. I love maps, so I can see myself using this feature every now and then.
The timeline at the bottom shows my next calendar events. If I tap on an event, I can see more information as well as the location of the event. Unfortunately, you can’t edit the calendar event directly from this timeline view, which can be frustrating when you forgot to add the location of your next meeting.
When you tap on the location of your next event, you can start directions in Google Maps or open another app with this address using deep linking. Snips currently supports Citymapper, Uber, Waze and a few others. Oddly, Snips shows all the available apps by default even though I haven’t installed eCab or Vianavigo. You can hide them in the settings, but this feature could have been more elegant.
My (now defunct) favorite calendar app Sunrise was smart and only showed the apps you already have on your phone. Similarly, Citymapper is more powerful than Snips as it gives you an ETA as well as a price estimation so that you know if it makes more sense to order an Uber or take the subway. I don’t see myself using Snips to move around Paris as I can open Citymapper from Fantastical in just one tap and get better ETAs. Snips would be an extra step.
And finally, you can search for restaurants, coffee shops or bars around this location with a few shortcuts at the bottom. Snips seems to be using the Foursquare API and displays results directly in the app. Once again, the results don’t have a lot of information. You’ll have to open the Foursquare app using deep linking to see tips or the menu.
In my timeline, I can also see my Eventbrite ticket for an event I’m attending tonight. Snips retrieved this information from my Gmail account. Over time, Snips is supposed to learn when I’m going to work and coming home and suggest these events in my timeline.
Then, there’s the search bar. The search feature combines everything I’ve mentioned in a different way. You can search for calendar events, places, tickets or contact information. It’s useful, but you’d expect more from a startup that promises to reinvent AI-powered assistants. I’ve been using the built-in Spotlight feature in iOS to get the same information, and it’s not where iOS shines.
And there’s a reason why Snips seems quite limited right now. Compared to other assistants, such as Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, Facebook’s M and Amazon’s Alexa, Snips takes privacy very seriously and doesn’t store your data on its servers. Everything happens on your phone, and you stay in control of your data.
I’m in favor of taking privacy seriously. But this stance is also limiting. Siri and Snips share the same shortcomings — users expect to be able to do complicated search queries that combine multiple web services.
Snips doesn’t allow me to do that. It’s just a central hub for all my calendar, contact and location data. But iOS has already been a good central hub for this data.
So Snips is in a corner right now as I don’t see how it could become as powerful as Google Now or Alexa. It has already taken them years to come up with this app. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are not going to slow down. The French startup first needs to implement natural language queries.
Snips is tackling one of the toughest challenges in tech right now. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are all working hard on improving their personal assistants. That’s why it’s good to see small companies innovating in this space, such as Viv, Hound and Snips. So let’s see if Snips can crack the code and put all the pieces of this complicated puzzle together.