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Developer Interview: Speaktoit Voice Assistant

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Apple may have pushed the voice assistant market with its Siri app, but third-party developers didn’t stand still – Speaktoit is an app that rivals Siri and is available on multiple smartphone operating systems, including iOS itself.

PhoneRPT interviewed the company’s CEO, Ilya Gelfenbeyn, who gave us interest insights on the app and its future.

Speaktoit - Update Your Calendar

What does the latest Speaktoit bring?

The Speaktoit Assistant has just launched new features designed to further add efficiency to the lives of our users. We’ve crated a tool that’s unique to Speaktoit which we call the “Daily Briefing.” This function lets users get customized and automatically-generated information when they begin their day, such as the weather forecast, items on their calendar for the day, top news stories, horoscopes, etc. – all warmly presented by your Assistant avatar.

We’ve also just added a feature where you can access your friends’ knowledge for suggestions or answers to your questions, and then get notified by your Assistant when the info is available. It’s unique to Speaktoit as well, and particularly interesting because it shows that virtual assistants don’t need to be limited by internet data to find information; in this case, they can use your friends.

The newest Speaktoit Assistant also has added some useful integration, such as Yelp (so you get customized Yelp ratings read to you based on your location), TripAdvisor, Evernote, Wikipedia, Bing Translator, and more. By adding these integrations, we hope Speaktoit can be your one-stop shop for getting information that you’d normally have to go to multiple places to get.

How is it different from your competitors?

These newest features are unique to the Speaktoit Assistant. Our app also uses a customizable avatar as your Assistant, which we think is more friendly to interact with than, say, a faceless voice.

What platforms does the app currently support? Will you be developing it for any other operating systems?

Speaktoit Assistant is currently on Android, iOS, and Windows Phone 7. Versions for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 (for tablets and laptops) will be launching soon.

How did you get the idea for this app?

The idea itself is quite old – you might have seen it in Star Trek and Kubrick’s Odyssey. The Speaktoit co-founders previously worked on research projects in computational linguistics. Recent developments in voice recognition systems, web service APIs, and cloud computing made it possible to develop the Assistant. So we did!

Speaktoit - Finding Info Through ChaChat

What can your users expect in future versions of Speaktoit?

We’re working on more languages, like German, Portuguese and Chinese. This will open up Speaktoit to many additional users, and we’re really excited about that. It’ll be interesting to see how different cultures use their Assistant, and how they choose to customize their avatar. We’ll also expect to see Speaktoit in new platforms, like your car, TV, or home. Virtual assistants won’t just be for smartphones soon. Finally, we’ll continue to add new features to the general knowledge of the Assistant. It’s perhaps still a long way towards making the Assistant a “must have” app for all users, but we are moving in this direction. We don’t want the Assistant to be a novelty – we truly strive to make it a worthwhile, fun tool for anyone.

What do you as a programmer specifically do?

As a programmer, I improve the Assistant’s engine (so it understands more commands, more efficiently), I design user interaction scenarios, and I work with external services (like Yelp, for example) to add new knowledge to the Assistant.

In your opinion, what smartphone operating systems will rise and fall in the future?

All smartphone operating systems will continue to rise (well, perhaps not RIM), but their adoption curves will differ. Windows Phone probably has the most to gain, but Android will continue its ascent. I expect iOS to rise as well, only probably at a slower pace than we’ve seen.

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By , Editor-in-Chief, Johannesburg office

Published on Nov 28th, 2012 GMT +2

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