Maluuba, a Waterloo (Canada) based company, which had launched a voice based personal assistant service by the same name for Android smartphones, in September, has extended the service to India. It previously offered support for North America, UK and Australia. The company says that after it launched its international beta last month, it observed that the largest proportion of users came from India, and decided to release a full fledged version for the Indian market. It also noted that India is home to a large number of Android users, and Siri’s presence is insignificant as the iPhone user base is small.
We feel that it’s a smart move as more Android users aspire to use a voice assistant. At the time of writing this post only Samsung Galaxy SIII and Galaxy Note II offer Samsung’s S-Voice (the Note II also features Google Now), the Galaxy Nexus features Google Now, Google’s own voice based assistant cum search service, and a few Micromax phone offer the Aisha voice assistant, which is based on Dexetra’s Iris service. Dexetra also offers the Iris voice assistant service for Android phones. But with Google offering Google Now on all Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) phones and voice powered search on iOS, the app should be ready for some serious competition.
Services offered: Maluuba currently supports 18 different categories of services including entertainment (restaurants, movies, local events, music), social (Facebook, Twitter), organization (calendar, call, email). The company has partnered with content providers like Yelp, Google Places, Wolfram Alpha, YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Weather underground and others to offer information to users. In India, Maluuba is using local data from Google Places for restaurants,West World Media, for movies and Eventful for events.
We tried using Maluuba on a Galaxy Nexus. The service can be accessed via an app or a widget on the screen, and a microphone icon invokes the voice recognition prompt following which, the app processes the command and takes an action. The app can also take text instructions, similar to Google Now. Besides these, the app also offers an ‘explore’ screen that lists all the information services, and task services that the app offers, and allow users to manually select and browse these services, and a ‘my day’ screen which is a personal information management interface offering reminders, alarms, birthdays and other events.
Restaurants: The app allows users to search for restaurants based on cuisine, a specific food item or location, and offers listings via Google Places. In our experience, it was able to offer results based on cuisine or food items but was not able to filter them according to location. For example, Pizza nearby, returned listings for restaurants located at the opposite side of the city. For listings, it offers an overview, reviews and directions, along with social sharing capabilities. Perhaps it could partner with Bookyourtable or Zomato to offer better and more detailed listings, and reservations.
Weather and Knowledge: The app offers weather info including the current weather, hourly and weekly forecats, powered by Weather Underground. It offers a knowledge engine powered by Wolfram Alpha, which is the same engine used by Apple for Siri.
Movies: Although we struggled with voice recognition, as the app did not understand Hindi movie names at times, it did offer movie listings with showtimes, rotten tomato reviews (link), and a trailer. The showtimes were only available for a limited number of theaters and were at times inaccurate. Why not partner with someone like BookMyShow to offer listings and ticketing within the app?
Navigation: The app also allows users to search for directions. The app simply searches for directions in Google Maps’ web app. Again we observed that at times it was not able to understand street names.
Businesses: The app also offers business listings via Google Places. We feel that it should have partnered with local players like JustDial and Getit to offer better listings.
Events: The app offers Event listings through Eventful. It offers details on venue, time, and directions, along with the ability to set a calendar reminders.
Music: The app also allows users to say the name of a song, artist or album and it plays music within a player built into it. It did not recognise song and album names, specially the ones in Hindi.
Connect: The app also recognises commands for composing email, checking the Facebook newsfeed and posting a new status message, checkin into a place using Foursquare, sending a text message and using Twitter. The basis commands worked but we struggled with the app while dictating longer sentences.
PIM: The app also lets users set alarms, calendar events, reminders and timers.
It all started with Apple launching Siri with the iPhone 4S, last year, and positioning it as a life changing feature. While the feature worked in India, it supported a limited set of use cases, and was majorly tailor made for the US market. So it was more or less useless for Indian users if one wanted restaurant recommendations, movie listings or directions. A lot of users also claimed to face issues with Siri’s ability to recognise Indian English. Google also rolled out a voice feature, and we found that Google Now works better, specially when it comes to navigation, and with the recent Google Search update, it supports additional features.
While we love the fact that Maluuba’s extended support for Indian services, keeping in consideration local use cases, we feel that it needs to get more local partners and improve its voice recognition engine. It would be great if we’re able to book a table or order food from a restaurant, or book a movie ticket. Right now the app just takes us to the web browser if we seek additional info. It could at least open an existing app (or ask us to install it), making things easier. And when one already has specific apps for different use cases why would one install one which doesn’t do much except show listings, which even a web browser integrated search engine can do. Also, if the app doesn’t recognise what we’re saying, we’d be wasting more time repeating the instructions, rather than actually getting our work done. Till the time it offers better integration with existing apps and services, and understands the Indian accent in a better manner, a voice assistant is more of a gimmick.