Recently we covered the rise of virtual personal assistants, apps that help users get advice on everything from the weather to what to do on a Saturday night. The most popular of these apps is Apple’s Siri, which lets users ask a question verbally and get a response, all without having to type anything. More and more companies are trying to leverage voice-powered apps to save users from having to type or read on their smartphones, including Android app Maluuba, billed as the Siri for Android.
Tel Aviv-based startup WonderVoice is launching at Dublin’s Web Summit today to help users interact with their social networks using only their voice. Rather than compete with Siri, the company believes its iOS app is a complement to existing voice-powered virtual assistants, and is more focused on helping users get handsfree access to their Facebook account.
The company’s first app, WonderVoice for Facebook, lets users connect their Facebook profile, and then hear an audio feed of friends’ updates, chat messages, and other activity. The $1.99 app is targeted at anyone who’s driving, cycling, jogging, or just can’t type on their phone at any given time.
“For the first time, there is a totally hands-free interaction with the social network,” CEO Gal Melamed said in an interview. “It basically allows seamless interaction with all the content that you have on Facebook, but this time handsfree. We are envisioning users…to have WonderVoice open, and once it is open it is always listening to you.”
Once users connect their Facebook profile, WonderVoice will announce how many unread messages, newsfeed items and songs they have available to listen to. Users can update their status, have their newsfeed read to them and add likes or comments to posts, and hear their messages inbox. Users can also put the app in standby mode, which means it will only notify users if a friend is nearby, or if someone starts chatting with them. It also gives people access to the music their friends have shared on 8Tracks and Spotify, with additional streaming services coming soon. Users can play friends’ music posts, and control songs by tapping the screen, though as of right now can’t stream their own music libraries on those services.
This is the first of several planned apps and products from WonderVoice, which will all help users create and consume social content by voice, with the goal of eliminating the need for looking at or typing on a phone. Melamed said eventually they want to release an app that aggregates all the messages a user gets in a day, whether via SMS or social networks, and they plan to add other services including SoundCloud, foursquare, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social services. WonderVoice is also planning to release an Android app in the future.
Melamed said rather than compete with Siri, WonderVoice complements Apple’s existing voice-powered helper. “For us it’s ideal for us to have Siri as a companion,” he said. “Once WonderVoice is launched there’s no need to continue the interaction with Siri, since the interaction is very much focused on social networks and other applications which are basically not supported by Siri with that deep integration.”
The company reports that 40 percent of U.S. Facebook users have used Facebook’s mobile app while driving, so it has a big potential audience of multitasking users. But like Siri, WonderVoice still doesn’t offer a truly voice-powered experience, since users have to tap to open the app, and then swipe to interact with it. Apps like Sonalight, which run in the background of a user’s phone, let them compose text messages using only their voice, something that will be key for apps like WonderVoice to truly go handsfree.