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New apps predict, provide information about what users want

A child uses an iPad Air tablet at the Apple store in San Francisco, California November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A child uses an iPad Air tablet at the Apple store in San Francisco, California November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

By Natasha Baker

TORONTO (Reuters) - New apps that listen to conversations or scan emails and calendars can predict and provide information such as websites, videos and maps to users before they ask for them or realize they want them.

MindMeld for the iPad is a voice conferencing assistant that understands conversations, and depending on what people are talking about, will find a map of a city and tourist information if the chat is about a trip, or restaurants if it is about eating out.

"Imagine a situation where you're on the phone or talking with a friend," Timothy Tuttle, founder of San Francisco-based Expect Labs, which created the app, said in an interview. "wouldn't it be great if your phone could automatically find the information you're talking about and display it at the right time?"

To use MindMeld, which costs $3.99, users log on to the app with Facebook. The app detects words and phrases related to current events and local businesses and searches the Internet while people are speaking to each other to gather more information related to the conversation.

Up to eight people can join in on a chat. The app also summarizes key concepts of the discussion. To protect privacy, conversations are not recorded or stored.

Tuttle predicts that during the next few years computing devices will move from laptops, smartphones and tablets to everyday objects like a table or wearable technologies such as Google Glass. He believes the new devices will not have keyboards, which was the motivation for creating MindMeld app.

"Tomorrow, our computing devices will pay attention continuously, anticipate what information might be relevant, and be ready at a moment's notice to give you the exact information you need," Tuttle explained.

The devices and apps will listen to what people are saying, or watch what they are reading and writing, as well as the places they visit. The company also plans to release iPhone and Android apps.

"By interpreting these contextual signals, our apps and devices will become much better at finding the information we need, in some cases, before we even need to ask," he added.

Google Now, available in the free Google Search app for iPhone and Android, and EasilyDo, for iPhone and Android, also predict what a user might want or do based on data such as emails, search histories and calendars. But the app does not listen to conversations.

If the app detects a user has an appointment, for example, it provides a map to get there and traffic conditions.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Andrew Hay)

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