Commentary

Apple Picks Up Personal Assistant Company Cue

One of the coming battlegrounds between the two mobile operating system kingpins could be on the terrain of personalized services. Apple made another investment in the area of personal assistance with its purchase this week of the startup Cue. The app, which was discontinued earlier this week, had functions similar to Google Now in that it indexes data from a user’s social media feed, mail, calendar, etc. to create a daily agenda and show timely updates. The company was founded as Greplin and turned into Cue in 2012, according to Apple Insider, which broke the story. Techcrunch confirmed the acquisition with Apple.

The acquisition underscores how much both Apple and Google see contextualized and highly personal information driving a series of services for their respective platforms. Apple iOS already includes a number of contextual triggers, including geo-fenced reminders that pop up when a user approaches a relevant location. My shopping to-do list, for instance, pings me every time I pass the nearby Shop-rite. Offers in my Passbook pop up alerts when I am near the relevant stores to use active coupons.

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Google Now, of course, takes some of these functions into an even more concierge-like model. It pushes information even more proactively, anticipating from appointment and ticketing data routes that a user is likely to take in the near future. This level of intimate awareness of a user’s life details, coupled with geolocation, move devices toward looking and feeling like trusted valets, dressing maids and gentlemen’s gentlemen.

In addition to valet service, contextual awareness can also be used to make other aspects of the mobile experience more precise, such as searches and content discovery.

Cool as the concept of automated personal assistants may seem (at least for the tech geeks who want their own C3PO) its appeal to the general user remains unclear. It seems more likely to me that the evolution will be more subtle. Over time, all of us will come to expect that the operating systems running our phones will simply be more contextually focused and aware, personalized in nuanced ways rather than via anthropomorphized robot servants like a Siri.

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