A new voice app from a Y Combinator-backed startup called Life Bot wants to make it easier to use Amazon Alexa as a digital assistant, by aiding with your daily routines and learning your personal preferences. At launch, Life Bot's Alexa app has a handful of tricks up its sleeve. It can find your misplaced phone, for example, by giving it a ring. Or it can text you reminders at a scheduled time. It can even help you meditate or do yoga at your desk.
But Life Bot's longer-term ambition is to learn from its users, then be able to kick-off personalized workflows with a single voice command.
A future version of the app could respond to a command like "good morning" by launching a series of updates that would differ from user to user.
For instance, one person might first hear their morning briefing, then launch into a meditation session. Another might have Alexa dictate their schedule for the day, then receive a list of reminders that are in need of scheduling. (To be clear, Life Bot would be running content in its own app, not launching other skills.)
The idea for this jack-of-all-trades voice bot comes from co-founders Jess Williams and Oscar Merry, who previously founded London-based voice design agency Opearlo. The agency did client work for a number of companies, including Unilever, that wanted to make their products and services accessible through voice.
"We kept identifying the problems that brands were facing, and we thought there was a huge opportunity to create the first voice app that people love -- and one that people actually use every day," explains Williams.
The founders sold Opearlo and joined Y Combinator's summer class.
What's clever about the implementation of this voice app is that it's working around several challenges facing voice app adoption today -- including discovery, people's confusion over how to use the voice apps themselves and voice apps' limited inability to reach users outside the home.
"People love Alexa, but we haven't yet gotten into the habit of thinking 'I bet there's a skill for that,' like we do with mobile apps," says Williams. In part, that's because Alexa is a new technology, she notes. "But also, there aren't any external triggers to remind you to use Alexa. If you don't form the habit yourself, it's very difficult to remember to use her," Williams continues.
Worse still is trying to remember how to invoke the skills using the right syntax and commands.
To make it easier to get started, Life Bot combines voice app functionality with text messaging.
When you first set up the skill, Life Bot asks for your phone number. The app then texts a welcome message to your phone and asks for your name. After you reply, it will return with suggestions of things to try. Having your hand held like this through the onboarding process makes it a lot easier to get started with Life Bot, compared with other voice apps.
Plus, now that Life Bot has your phone number, the app can connect with you when you're away from Alexa, too. While Alexa itself has reminders and to-dos, her reach is more limited. You can check on your reminders via the Alexa app, but when they go live, they're sent to one of your Alexa-powered devices, like your Echo or Echo Dot.
Life Bot, however, can just text your phone instead.
In time, the plan is to introduce new features in Life Bot, starting with to-dos. In that case, Life Bot will just text your whole to-do list to you at a date and time you specify. In a few more months, the team hopes to have the personalization aspects working, too.
And eventually, you'll be able to use Life Bot on other voice platforms, like Google Home, Cortana and more.
The startup has no immediate plans for monetization, but may partner with others to bring their content into its voice app later on.
Currently bootstrapped, save for Y Combinator's funding, Life Bot's team of three aims to raise a seed round when the YC summer program completes.