On the heels of Samsung’s acquisition of Viv just a week ago, a new AI assistant has risen into the spotlight and is jockeying to fill the shoes of its now well-known rival. Ozlo, the Greylock- and Jerry Yang-backed independent entrant to the personal assistant race, is launching today on iOS and the web in an effort to give stalwarts like Siri, Alexa and Cortana a run for their money.
The new personal assistant promises early adopters a good memory, a brain full of knowledge, and an independent soul — everything you could hope for in your new binary friend.
When I sat down with Charles Jolley, CEO of Ozlo and previous head of platform for Facebook on Android, the two of us immediately had a nice laugh about the repetitive female names for assistants in the marketplace right now — Ozlo, by name alone, is already something different. That said, a name is one thing; the more important question is whether Ozlo is useful and doesn’t make its users want to throw their phone against a wall after use.
I’ve been using the assistant for the last few weeks and have been mostly impressed. The bar is still quite low for assistants and us enthusiasts have to find small things to get excited about, but that wasn’t a problem with Ozlo.
One thing in particular that Ozlo delivered well was a good memory of my previous interactions with him. For people that suffer from gluten allergies, Ozlo can digest that information and put it to use later on when you ask for a cute date spot. This is a feature that Google’s new assistant is heavily investing in, but after initial use, Allo still struggles with. When the app first dropped, I had an extended frustrating conversation trying to convince it that juice and coffee were in fact two distinct preferences rather than some weird personality tick where I can only drink coffee if juice is also present.
Jolley is insistent that Ozlo isn’t simply useful for users, but is a critical piece of the the AI ecosystem itself. Ozlo is a personal assistant independent of the big tech illuminati of Google, Baidu, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple. When we met, Viv was still among its private brethren, but with the company’s new connection to Samsung, the impetus has only become greater.
Big tech conglomerates have a strong market advantage when it comes to the size and scope of their data sets. For example, much of the hype around Google’s assistant relates to its integration with Google Search. Jolley wants us to remember that bigger isn’t always better. These companies tend to prioritize their own services when responding to queries even if a more holistic response could come with better integrations.
Ozlo is launching integrated with services like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, Michelin, DoorDash, IMDB, Westworld Media, TimeOut, the Infatuation, and Yummly. He also has support from Further Food, Authority Nutrition, Gluten Free Globetrotter, Gluten Free Mrs. D, and Cookies and Kate to provide nutritional guidance.
Every assistant on the market right now could use some training in the natural language understanding department, and Ozlo is no different. Accuracy is improving with data and the box of potential queries is getting larger, but it is still fundamentally a box. This isn’t to say that Ozlo is frustrating to use, just important to remember to keep expectations in check. It will be interesting to see how he continues to adapt to my speaking style in the coming weeks while keeping an eye on future deep hardware integrations with AI. Pixel gave us a taste of that but it won’t be the end. Ozlo’s thesis requires that a world exist outside of those integrations, now it’s just a matter of watching the games play out to see if independence can trump convenience.