Three Proactive Assistance Startups Worth Watching

I’ve been experimenting for the past year or so with several proactive assistant apps to guide my day — they remind me to get on conference calls with clients, offer to text participants if I'm running late to an in-person lunch, and keep me in touch with friends and colleagues. Some of these apps also integrate Salesforce, Yammer, and BaseCamp for job-specific context and assistance.

Among the most popular apps, Google Now personalizes recommendations and assistance by applying predictive analytics to data stored in email, contacts, calendar, social, docs, and other types of online services users opt in. Other examples include Tipbit applying predictive analytics to make a more intelligent inbox, and EasilyDo using the notification system to recommend ways to automate common everyday tasks. Expect Labs is tackling this space from the other end of the spectrum, offering an intelligent assistance engine for enterprises to plug into and add proactive features to their own apps. 

Here’s what we think:

•    Vendors will experience burnouts and early customer frustration, much like in voice recognition. In the music industry, it’s said that an artist is only as good as her last hit. We saw that analogy apply to voice recognition when users got frustrated at Siri as soon as she failed once on them. Expect a similar dynamic with all types of predictive apps.

•    Apps for specific roles, processes, and personas will prevail over all-in-one assistants like Google Now. Predictive algorithms optimize around the patterns of similar individuals or behaviors. So the next generation of predictive apps will tailor to specific roles like sales or field operations, specific functions and business processes like marketing or expense management, or specific companies.

•    Major platforms will continue slowly building proactive capabilities. Apple, Google, and Microsoft own the building blocks of predictive technologies — email, contacts, calendar, and location. Each brand’s strength will be tested as it shifts into owning more types of data and perhaps facilitating how users share data with other institutions. Google appears to be in the lead with Google Now, but Apple’s recent acquisition of Cue indicates it may release a proactive assistant app of its own. Further, its acquisition of PrimeSense and introduction of the M7 processor indicate interest in harnessing developers with the data and processing power to support proactive mobile experiences. And we expect Microsoft to leverage its position at the intersection of work and personal spheres with proactive assistance capabilities exploiting that dynamic.  

To learn more about these startups and our view on this emerging area, see our recent report Pioneer Vendors: Proactive Assistance

Sidebar: I'll be spending 2014 exploring how enterprises build personalized mobile experiences — proactive assistance being a key component. I'm interested in talking to startups, larger vendors, and enterprises about this space. 

Michael Yamnitsky is a Researcher at Forrester Research. You can follow him on Twitter @ItsYamnitsky.

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