Saga, which launches today for iPhone, is Siri if she were proactive. The application doesn’t wait for you to ask a question but instead knows enough about you from the activity passively logged by your phone to offer up information and recommendations when it thinks you need them most.
“We call it an intelligent companion,” Andy Hickl, CEO and co-founder of parent company A.R.O., explained to me in an interview. “We’ve built an app that knows where you are, what you’re doing, and tries … to hook you up with information, or recommendations, or notifications that might help you out in your current context.”
Saga functions much like a start screen for life with the purpose of providing people with insight on their past, present, and futures.
The iPhone application collects data on where you are at all times to build a complete profile of who you are — how old you are, where you work, what you do, where you live, where you’ve been, what you like, and so forth. The data is used in aggregate, matched up against people with similar qualities, to make timely recommendations and suggestions on things you need or may want to do. Saga will suggest the best place to stop for lunch on a road trip, for instance, or remind you to pick up groceries, since the app knows you haven’t been to the store in a week.
The application opens to a “Now” area that shows you where you are — no checkins needed — and what’s nearby. Here you’ll also find notable tidbits such as a weather report and information on upcoming sporting events.
Scroll up and you’ll find Saga’s recommendations. If it’s lunch time, Saga will suggest a place for you to eat. If it’s nice out, Saga may suggest a beach trip or nudge you to go fly a kite in a nearby park. When happy hour rolls around, Saga will point you to a popular drinking hole. Scroll down and you can check out a history of everywhere you’ve been.
In addition to adaptive recommendations, Saga surfaces hyper-local weather data, provides traffic conditions and routing information, shares logistics for travel (pit stop, anyone?), and alerts you to upcoming events. The application can hook into Foursquare, as well as collect data from other activity-tracking sources such as RunKeeper, Withings, and Fitbit to log your history and get more intelligent.
“We’re using all this data to be able to make recommendations; not just places to go and spend money, or things to do, or events and movies to go see, but also activities,” Hickl said. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is the ability to understand enough about you to be able to figure out the kinds of things you might want to have recommended to you.”
One of Saga’s biggest hurdles will be convincing people to come back to the application after download. The company admits that the app will take 48 to 72 hours to get to know a person. In today’s download-today-forget-tomorrow app environment, that time frame is an eternity. If your first experience of Saga is one that leaves you underwhelmed — and you will be underwhelmed on day one — why would you ever go back?
So I put this question to Hickl: At what point does Saga become something I need or want to use on a daily basis versus something that just tells me something about myself that I already know?
Hickl said the app’s ability to anticipate a person’s needs is what should keep the person coming back for more. “Things like ‘It’s time for a midnight snack’ or ‘How about dinner and movie?’ Those kinds of recommendations that are really tailored to you and tailored to your needs … are really where we’re going.”
There’s also the issue of location and the creepy factor of knowing that an app is tracking you everywhere you go. Saga demands 24 x 7 access to location services to function, and that’s a lot to ask from a person, a fact not lost on the young company.
“One of our biggest goals is to provide enough value to let people say ‘hey, it’s worth it to me to be able to run location services 24 x 7,’” Hickl said.
The company also has a commitment to user privacy and promises never to sell or give away your personal data. Saga users can wipe out all data collected when they’re done with the application, and eventually they’ll be able to tell Saga to delete specific data points on them.
But give Saga an opportunity to get to know you and the application should make a little bit of difference in the quality of your life, Hickl said.
“We picked the name Saga not by accident,” he said. “Ultimately, what we want to be able to do is tell your personal story that takes in evidence from all these different sources and makes it meaningful to you in a way that’s not meaningful now.”
Saga is a product of Seattle-based A.R.O., a privately-funded startup with 18 people and backing from Paul Allen.