Will Google Assistant finally deliver us a world with fewer apps?
It’s been a dream of ours for a while now. We’ve been watching the AI space, salivating at systems like IBM Watson, and having some fun playing with Microsoft and Facebook bots. We’re still waiting though, waiting for a future where our phones are no longer a repository of tiny square icons delivering singular web connected experiences.
For this editor personally, at last count, my “must install” list of apps has grown to almost 80 services which I pile on every time I set up a new phone to review. Many of these programs are feature specific to a degree that they could be easily replaced by a more desktop grade browser. Some apps could easily be lumped into the core of the phone’s user interface. There’s been a lot of discussion about the benefits of consumer facing artificial intelligence, but we might be missing the forest for the trees.
The next stage of mobile computing needs to focus on streamlining.
The experience of using a smartphone has become fairly bloated. We live our lives out of tiny glowing rectangles that handle some computing tasks really well, but still stumble over some uses better suited to laptops and desktops. Making sense out of an incredible amount of user data, while acting as the gatekeeper to a myriad number of online services, and occasionally taking a phone call, is a tall order for a device that fits in your pocket.
Science fiction addresses this by creating super smart computer systems. How fantastic an idea, when Star Trek utilized speech controls for complex computing tasks 50 years ago on TV. The future we’re approaching is starting to resemble those Sci-Fi tropes found in Star Trek, 2001 A Space Odyssey, and countless other film and television properties.
Yes, AI can help you search through your photos better. Yes, AI will know which speakers to wireless stream your music to. Sure, AI can tell you jokes in your favorite messaging app. It’s less sexy to talk about, but could eventually be the biggest benefit over time, AI should be the death of the single purpose app. Think of how many services which could be completely uprooted by smarter search and suggestion systems.
Why go to a Yelp app to find a new restaurant? Why not push a button on your Bluetooth headset and ask “where’s a good place to get a taco around here”? We’re happy Android 7 includes support for split-screen multitasking, because if you want to compare a Yelp score against a Zagat rating, you’ll need to have two separate services up on your display at the same time. An artificial assistant should have no issues parsing multiple online rating services, cross checking that data against your previous eating history, and then delivering contextually relevant results through the exact same portal that you used to ask the question in the first place.
The above paragraph is only one very shallow example of how AI might streamline our digital lives. Managing travel and automobile maintenance, tracking health statistics, real time information delivery based on location and context, nearly every interaction with your phone could benefit from some form of AI co-pilot. Cortana, Siri, and Google Now have all been dancing around this idea with enhanced search and speech controls, but deeper integration into both the device and a user’s data is required to bring us closer to science fiction predictions.
What we didn’t hear a lot about today was Google’s plans for security and privacy. As we approach a more connected and AI integrated future, we’ll face challenging conversations regarding how we should handle user data and how governments might request access to information. We’ll have to save those discussions for future articles. For now we’ll focus on the potential positives.
Years ago, it looked like Microsoft might have won this race, when we were first playing with the Xbox One Kinect and Cortana on Windows Phones. It’s funny to think back even five years ago. We were all impressed by app stores with hundreds of thousands of individual programs. Today the race has changed as Google takes a significant step towards incorporating more context sensitive features throughout the whole of the Android user interface. Scanning through my app drawer, there are so many little icons I can’t wait to be rid of.
Google Assistant, IBM Watson, Siri, Cortana which company do you think might deliver an Iron Man style Jarvis digital butler first? Drop us a comment below!