Texting just got a little more intelligent with the aid of Emu Messenger, an SMS-based "contextual assistant" that uses location awareness and artificial intelligence to provide a variety of information services. Currently only available for Android, Emu Messenger can assist in scheduling meetings, making restaurant reservations, and finding movie showtimes and tickets near your location.
"When we started working on the app, we wanted to do the things people are talking about in text messages, and near-time coordination is what a lot of people do when texting," said co-founder and CEO Gummi Hafsteinsson, who formerly worked with Siri at Apple.
The app detects text related to times and dates, for example, and pops up a user's calendar in a small widget in the flow of the conversation. If a text reads, "Let's have dinner tonight at 7:00 p.m in North Beach," the app lets you create the calendar event and offers information from Yelp about restaurants in the area, as well as access to OpenTable reservations.
Emu Messenger lets you hit "snooze" on messages and set a time for them to reappear. Users also can push-to-talk to record a message. In addition, a "Marco Polo" feature allows users to share their live location in a map view in Emu.
The company is working on an iOS version, but it hasn't set a date to launch the app. Unlike Android, which allows Emu to tap into its SMS facilities, Apple requires that messaging apps create their own transport layer.
At this juncture, Emu isn't focused on generating revenue. "We are thinking more about making user experience really good. We have some ideas, but we are not talking about it," said Hafsteinsson. "We are more focused on building a great assistant rather than just a texting app."
Making its technology available to other apps is one possible direction for the company. "Working across different apps that are not ours is an open question now," Hafsteinsson said.
So far, Emu has received $1.5 million in funding from angel investors and top-tier venture capitalists. "We need to prove to ourselves and everyone else first that this is a great way of doing things," said Emu co-founder Dave Feldman, former user experience director at Yahoo Messenger. It may be that the startup will be very appealing to companies with texting and chat services, such as Facebook and Google, or it will spawn contextual assistant messaging imitators.