Henry Dewing
Henry Dewing has participated in every aspect of the telecommunications market. In addition to advising industry leaders as a management...
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Henry Dewing | June 30, 2014 |


Electronic Assistants Delivering Mobile Moments - AKA Can My Cell Phone REALLY Do That?

Electronic Assistants Delivering Mobile Moments - AKA Can My Cell Phone REALLY Do That? Voice recognition and data analytics are the core technologies at play in EAs, allowing simple, human-like access to the enormous raw computing power in your smartphone.

Voice recognition and data analytics are the core technologies at play in EAs, allowing simple, human-like access to the enormous raw computing power in your smartphone.

Almost two decades ago, electronic assistants (EAs) from General Magic and Wildfire were in the news, enabling a humanistic personality and some advanced voice recognition capabilities to simplify the lives of mobile telephone users. Wildfire CEO Bill Warner, was fond of saying that he knew the market needed a solution when it was clear there was a direct and inverse relationship between life expectancy and number of mobile calls placed while driving – but these solutions went much further. A subscriber could check their email and calendar, listen to and return voice mail messages (remember those?), attend conference calls (still hate those?), and even check "who else is around" – a precursor to today's presence service – all without redialing the phone. It was revolutionary at the time, generating interest and investment from big entities like Microsoft and France Telecom.

Fast forward and a new crop of EAs are on the scene. Cortana, Google Now, and Siri all promise to change the way we experience our mobile lives. Siri has been blushing from the attention she has gotten from users – responding that she hopes you don't say that to all those other mobile phones when a user says that they love Siri. Google Now promises to remind you to walk faster if you want to catch the 4:40 train, by tracking your GPS signal as you stroll towards Grand Central Station to catch the train whose schedule you just looked up. Cortana promises to deliver the kind of service that Don Draper got from his secretary (except the three martini lunches), by emulating real personal assistants and the ways they keep their bosses on schedule and in control.

Voice recognition and data analytics are the core technologies at play here – allowing simple, human-like access to the enormous raw computing power in your smartphone –letting your mobile device work for you--harder and more effectively. In "The Mobile Mind Shift," Ted Schadler and his peers at Forrester research posit that companies must rapidly iterate to deliver what customers (and employees) need in context, at specific times – what they call satisfying a need in a mobile moment – by studying processes and personas in the mobile world. The EAs being delivered by Apple, Google, and Microsoft promise to take that model and concept and allow users to drive the ad hoc creation of solutions to dilemmas they face in mobile moments – an engine to deliver mass customization based on analytics derived from data about what you do and what you like.

I am anxious to get a phone that is smart enough to recognize that when I wake up I want to hear what the weather is, how long my commute will be, what urgent messages I have, and what is trending on my social graph – not a choice of the bumblebee waltz, tinkle or a corporate audio signature. When these new assistants are smart enough to deliver service I would expect from a live assistant (like filing expenses, organizing travel logistics, making restaurant suggestions, managing calendars, screening calls, and answering real questions) then I will sing their praises, just as I did for Wildfire years ago when she let me reclaim an hour of my day by being productive during my commute. Today, the best capabilities I have heard the new EAs touting include:

• Predict travel times based on traffic conditions – even warning you of congestion as you approach the start of your normal commuting time
• Location-based reminders – buy eggs while you are near the market, or your favorite artist has 3 pieces in the museum you are currently standing in front of
• Look up favorite sports teams' schedules and scores – report the final scores/results or even stream your favorite team's games to your device
• Call-based reminders – texting you a reminder to ask your brother to return your chainsaw when you call him or he calls you next time
• Read messages (e-mail and text) and type a reply (using speech to text) without having to look at or touch the phone – this capability is frustratingly inconsistent today
• Look up movie schedules and theatres, determine next possible showtime, secure tickets, and send directions to the theater

These are all things that other applications have done--the capabilities are not revolutionary--so while having a single human-like interface will be a huge advantage, I am not as excited as I could be. I want to see the benefit of analytics as well. The more my assistant learns about me, the more attached we will become – but this will happen best by being 'learned' e.g., asking:

"I notice you check the football scores frequently? Would you like me to text you those scores automatically? Would you like me to also send news stories about the team?" or

"You never seem to answer when Roger calls, do you want me to automatically send those calls to voice mail? Or simply reject them?"

I won't be satisfied with my assistant – no matter how digital and personal it may be - until it begins to figure me out and tell me how it can help instead of requiring me to tell it what to do. I love that Cortana promises to keep a notebook of preferences that "she" knows so there is transparency to the user of what is driving her decisions – and an ability to easily edit those preferences if she got something wrong.

Please leave a comment below about what are the coolest/best services you have seen – or wish you could have – from an EA.


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