Evernote's CEO: Siri and wearables are doing it wrong

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Evernote's CEO: Siri and wearables are doing it wrong


Evernote may have started out as a place to keep your digital notes, but CEO Phil Libin has far grander plans in mind: He wants it to be your everything for productivity. We're already seeing shades of Evernote's evolution today. New features let you collaborate with others from within its apps and automatically get links to content relevant from your notes. They're just a start, but they give you one less reason to start yet another email chain or open a web browser for research. But if you want to get a better sense of where Evernote is headed, you just need to look at the burgeoning fields of anticipatory computing (things like Google Now which anticipate information that you may need) and wearables. Yes, wearables.

"We've been thinking about it [anticipatory computing] for several years, and I think we've learned a lot of interesting lessons," Libin told us. "One of of them is that it can't be a separate thing. There shouldn't be a part of your system with a big arrow pointing to it saying, 'This is the intelligence stuff right here!' ... That doesn't work, that's both over promising and under delivering. Really you need the anticipatory parts to be part of the core experience as you're working. So it turns out it's more of a design challenge than an algorithmic challenge."

You can see this methodology in place with Context, the new Evernote feature that fetches articles related to your work. Links automatically appear at the bottom of your notes as you're typing, alongside your past notes and those from your coworkers. For my Evernote entry on Libin's interview, for example, I see all of the company's recent product announcements from TechCrunch and Fast Company, as well as another profile on Libin on the Wall Street Journal. If I were a less prepared writer, those links would have been lifesavers.

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When you talk about anticipatory computing, it's only a matter of time until the broader notion of augmented intelligence comes up. At the most basic level, that refers to technology that makes us smarter without much effort on our part. Libin believes there's a right way and a wrong way to approach augmented intelligence -- and so far, he thinks much of the computing industry has been doing it wrong. He breaks down three approaches: A solution that acts like a benevolent parent and "makes you feel like a child" (Clippy, anyone?); something like Siri that acts like an assistant while making you feel like an important executive; and something that makes you feel like you're Superman. "You're doing everything yourself and you're just really good at it," Libin said. "I want to be Superman. I don't want to be a child, I don't want to have an assistant. I want to do it myself and it should just come very easily."

Needless to say, Libin and the Evernote team are focused on achieving that third level of augmented intelligence. Who wouldn't want to be Superman? And it's not hard to imagine that we'll eventually see Siri moving in that direction as well. There are already glimpses of it in Google Now, which is more of an anticipatory notification platform than a friendly assistant like Siri.

Libin's stance on augmented intelligence, not surprisingly, also feeds into his view of wearables. For one, he finds it silly for watches to have apps. Instead, he thinks wearables will be more useful as additional screens to augment what we're doing on our existing devices. "It isn't any particular form factor that's important," Libin said. "It's this idea that when you use an app int he near future you'll be using it across multiple devices at the same time. Think about how profound that is." He offered up a hypothetical example of how Evernote could fit into this view: Imagine you're perusing Evernote on your phone when a call comes in. Instead of losing access to the note when you hold your phone to your ear, you can simply hold up your smartwatch to continue reading the very same Evernote entry. And he sees that eventually applying to just about every connected device, including your TV and car.

"Within a few years it's going to feel like you're surrounded by this field of digital intelligence," Libin told us. "No one knows how to do that . Nobody knows how to design experiences for that, you can't even wireframe that stuff ... We basically have to invent completely new design paradigms for it. It's going to be a cataclysmic change in the industry."

[Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images]

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