Waterloo, On-based Maluuba recently announced the release of its voice recognition personal assistant app for Android outside North America in the UK, Ireland, and Australia, and in public beta globally. The company’s app is often called Siri for Android, and has gained significant traction after presenting at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in September. It raised a seed round of $2 million from Samsung Ventures earlier in the year and is in the process of raising its Series A funding round.
The company’s app revolves around its natural language processing technology that breaks down text and voice speech contextually to provide users with a correct match for their query. “The problem Maluuba tries to solve is getting users the result they want. Unlike a search engine that gives you web links and things that are related to keywords you’re looking for, Maluuba finds you exactly what you’re looking for by understanding the natural language of what you ask,” Maluuba’s user experience lead Tareq Ismail said in an interview.
Currently, the app has functionality in 18 different categories and can help users with a wide array of functions in response to their questions, including weather, directions, restaurants, movie listings, concerts, stores, and everything to do with organizing their day, be it an appointment, reminder, or new task. The company’s technology integrates with other third-party APIs and taps into platforms like Yelp, foursquare and Facebook to provide sharing integration and will even remind users of their friends’ birthdays. The core of the app revolves around a timeline feature that acts as a backbone for a user’s activity, in which they can plan their days, or schedule meetings, meals and other activities while simultaneously getting responses from the app.
“When we looked at this problem, we just didn’t want to be a Siri clone, we were working on this before Siri was even announced for the iPhone, what we were trying to do was answer any question or any request a user had with an appropriate answer,” Ismail added. “When we were choosing what to support we realized a lot of things revolved around organizing your life, so a big part of the app is bringing that together in a harmonious ways.”
In regards to monetization strategies for the app, the company is looking to approach the issue from the perspective of wanting to close the loop for users by completing transactions. So if a user were to ask for movie listings, the platform would not just show movie listings, but then provide the ability to purchase tickets. The natural extension would then be towards products and services, the exact details of which the company was not willing to disclose.
Google also released its own alternative to Siri in Google Now, available for the latest range of Android phones, and comes with the ability to take advantage of both voice recognition and Google search to create both a voice-response system and passive tile display of information. However, Maluuba’s app is available on any version of Android and the company’s decision to focus on the Android market has a lot to do with its growth strategy.
“Our focus on Android was for a few reasons, the first one being we thought the Android ecosystem was a great opportunity for our application. Siri is only available on the latest iPhone, and even our competitor Google Now is only available on the latest Android phones, our app supports everything,” Ismail said. “We really want to take voice to the masses, we worked really hard to have our app work on smaller screen sizes, because that’s how we think we can have everybody embrace the future.”
The company mentioned the other reason for focusing on Android is that its open ecosystem is now being used to power the next wave of smart appliances, cars, and more, and the team sees a great value in having that flexibility to broaden its services. It does however plan on releasing an iOS app and Windows Phone app in the near future, and potentially even on the BlackBerry 10 platform after its release in 2013. With more international launches planned, as well as a Series A funding round on its way, the company is trying to be the best alternative to Siri, and soon will go head-to-head with the popular Apple assistant. With other intelligent assistants like Google Now, Saga and Evi trying to be users’ go-to place for recommendations, it will be interesting to see who will lead the virtual personal assistant pack.