Not to bother you with a study from the University of the Obvious, but if you think about the history of technologically facilitated intelligent agents, the goal always seems to be to sub in for a clever, always-on human personal assistant. There's a reason that hyper-busy, well-compensated folk have such staffers on the payroll: they make things easier.
Need a file for that meeting, or background on the attendees? Running late and need to tell them? Want to know which flights are delayed before you head to the airport, or where to park near the place you're having lunch? With a personal assistant, one call or text and you've got it handled.
We can't all have personal aides, but a lot of us have smartphones. Siri tackles the question of accessing your data or contacting people without putting your hands and / or eyes on the iPhone; Android's Google Now feature aims at the information supply side, parceling out the tidbits you need (or at least the ones it thinks you need) just when you're likely to want them. Even the oversubscribed launch of Mailbox this week speaks to the desire we have to start getting a streamlined, secure handle on the ebb and flow of our critical information.
Another option for getting the smart back into your smartphone launches today, and it's aimed at both your calendar and all the collateral information that surrounds it. Tempo Smart Calendar, incubated in Siri's birthplace at SRI International, derives situational awareness by analyzing your meetings alongside other data sinks like your email, LinkedIn contacts, attachments, location and more. The app is iPhone-only for now, with other platforms to come along later.
Tempo may look like other calendar apps on the App Store -- to my eyes, it pays some UI tribute to the revamped Gmail native app -- but its power lies in context as well as content. Rather than overwhelm you with every tidbit and factoid about your events, Tempo's design is intended to "reduce the noise that's often associated with virtual assistants that push information to users out of context or intent," says founder and CEO Raj Singh. The app will even find context that you didn't explicitly associate with the event, by looking for frequently emailed people connected to meeting hosts or attachments to messages with contextually relevant subjects.
Wherever possible, the calendar app distills actions down to a single tap: send an "I'm running late" alert, get directions, pull up attachments for the next appointment, check LinkedIn profiles or join a conference call (it even auto-dials conference codes for you, which I currently do with a $1.99 singletasker). As Tempo learns your modus operandi, it adjusts to provide the most-frequently needed information more promptly. I may not be busy enough to take full advantage of Tempo's savvy, but if your day involves hopping from call to meeting to meal to evening, you may indeed benefit from the added clarity and context that the app provides.
Of course, Tempo's AI has to learn about you and what your day looks like, so using it means giving it access to a lot of your personal data, including your email (and letting it mull for a while on initial setup). If that makes you uncomfortable, be forewarned.
You should check the Tempo site for privacy assurances and make sure that if you do try it and don't like it, you can fully erase yourself from the service. Tempo's privacy statement is here; the important note for anyone who intends to do a short-term trial and possibly cancel later on is that if you delete your Tempo account, your third-party service info might remain on their system for several weeks until it's aged out. If you want to get your mail and other data off more quickly, be sure to remove those subaccounts within the Tempo app before deleting your master Tempo account.
Tempo is launching as a free app, with possible premium features down the road for paid users. In contrast to Mailbox's Gmail-only limitation, Tempo is calendar- and email-agnostic. To provide a sense of what's possible inside the app, Tempo's produced this adorable promo video featuring a busy architect dad and his preternaturally articulate daughter. Robert Scoble also has a 30-minute interview with founder Singh in his enthusiastic writeup.