updated 02:18 pm EST, Wed December 18, 2013
Yahoo developing natural language digital assistant
Yahoo is working on its own voice-controlled digital assistant to rival that of Google Now and Apple's Siri, according to a new report. Android Police revealed on Wednesday a video that appears to show a Yahoo-branded personal assistant app running on an Android device. Sources familiar with Yahoo's plans say that the web giant will leverage its massive existing user base and various services to push out a service comparable to Apple and Google's offerings.
The demo video shows a Yahoo assistant app floating above a user's Android home screen in a manner similar to Facebook's Chat Heads. The assistant starts up when the user begins driving, giving a traffic report and an estimated time of arrival at his destination.
The user then tells the assistant to send a text to a contact, and the assistant takes dictation of the message. After an initial draft is done, the user tells the app to edit one bit of text, and the app does so.
The ease of voice-driven operation in the app may be derived in part or whole from technologies developed by SkyPhrase. SkyPhrase was a natural language processing startup that tailored its technology to specific types of usage. Yahoo announced earlier this month that it had bought four-member team and was going to roll it into Yahoo Labs. The team's goal: building on its existing vision of "making computers deeply understand people's natural language and intentions."
Little additional information is available regarding the rest of the app, including what Yahoo may call it and when it may launch.
Yahoo will be somewhat late to the party in terms of digital assistants, as Apple has had Siri for years now, and Google Now is quickly catching up with Apple's offering. Microsoft, too, is developing a digital assistant to be unveiled some time in the next few months.
What Yahoo may be able to do, though, is to leverage its massive user base and wide services platform to popularize its own offering. With more than 800 million users worldwide, Yahoo is one of the biggest entities on the Internet, even if it has lost mindshare to competitors.