When Apple added Siri to the iPhone 4s in 2011, it became a very well known natural language virtual assistant. Siri started as an app, and was acquired by Apple in 2010. Now Siri’s inventors are working on a new offering with big aspirations. They have formed Viv Labs, and are creating a new virtual assistant, aptly named Viv.
As would be expected with a new virtual assistant, Viv will be smarter, with more capabilities. Viv will be able to use a vast database of information to piece together complex commands. This allows for many capabilities that aren’t pre-canned like current popular virtual assistants.
Though Apple has since extended Siri’s powers – to make an OpenTable restaurant reservation, for example – she still can’t do something as simple as booking a table on the next available night in your schedule. She knows how to check your calendar and she knows how to use OpenTable. But putting those things together is, at the moment, beyond her.
Viv can, for example, book the cheapest flight “from SFO to Charles de Gaulle on July 2, with a return flight the following Monday.” Viv can also find the closest bottle of wine that goes well with a particular meal. These examples show how Viv can break a request down to research specific information, and return a fitting result. It’s a very improvisational assistant, that can learn how to improve itself over time.
Despite the team’s history of being acquired, their current vision is much bigger than that. Instead, they intend to license the technology to anyone who wants to use it.
They imagine that everyone from TV manufacturers and car companies to app developers will want to incorporate Viv’s AI, just as PC manufacturers once clamored to boast of their Intel microprocessors. They envision its icon joining the pantheon of familiar symbols like Power On, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
Although it’s possible for individual apps to support and license Viv, system-level integration would probably make for a better user experience. If hundreds of services and products required access to personal information, it could open up some privacy concerns. Even if it didn’t become the spectacle of a specific operating system, Viv could probably do its best work if it was licensed at the OS level. Viv Labs is currently weighing the choice between licensing and a commission model. As long as Viv lives up to the hype, their business model will be of utmost importance for their success.
If their licensing plans don’t quite work out, Viv Labs hasn’t totally ruled out being acquired. If that’s the case, the folks at Viv Labs could call Apple home once again. Since Microsoft released their virtual assistant Cortana, many advertisements have pointed out some of the holes in Siri that Viv aims to fix. Viv could be the ticket that Apple needs to be truly competitive, and pass Cortana by a long shot.
This project opens up a lot of potential for the future. Would you rather see Viv licensed to a ton of companies, or residing in a single location on devices? Share your thoughts in the comments.