Right now, your smartphone operates as a series of walled gardens. You’ve got your email app, your restaurant searching app, the text messaging app, the calendar app, and so on. For the most part, they all work completely independently of one another. And yet the experience would be so much better if they didn’t.
A new iOS messaging app called Emu serves as a compelling example. This contextually aware app is fully integrated with other services on your handset and it makes what has traditionally been a fragmented and frustrating phone experience seamless and efficient.
The easiest way to describe Emu is with a few examples. Say you’re chatting with a friend, trying to make lunch plans. You text, “Are you free at noon for lunch?” Just below that message is a small representation of the day’s schedule on your calendar, which you can tap to create a full calendar entry (pre-populated with “Lunch” as the event name). Your friend texts back, “Yes, that’s perfect, want to go to Garaje?” Normally, you’d have to hop out of the messaging app and look up the business on Google or Yelp. Instead, just below the written message is information about the restaurant from Yelp, which you can tap to be taken straight to Yelp for more details. Later, as you’re both walking to the establishment, you can share your location on a map. And not just as a pin. Like the app Twist, Emu shows your current progress on the map whether you’re walking, biking, or in a vehicle. This eliminates a lot of the back and forth-ing you tend to see in text messages (“What’s your ETA?” “Just got here!” “Are you sure you went to the right location?” and so on).
The app can tell when you’re talking about something actionable, so that it can facilitate that task and minimize the number of text messages you have to send to coordinate plans. It combines the benefits of a messaging app with a digital assistant and a smart calendar.
Other features of the app include a driving auto responder. If the app thinks you’re driving based on the speed you’re moving, it’ll auto reply to friends who text you. It also features integration with movie data. If you and a contact are planning on seeing a movie, it’ll pull up what’s showing at the theater nearest your home address, giving you easy access to Rotten Tomatoes ratings and other information (again, eliminating a lot of the back and forth you’d do deciding when and what movie to see). The app also lets you snooze messages, re-delivering them when you leave your location, get home, or arrive at work.
The unfortunate thing about Emu is that it is a bit of a walled garden itself — you only reap its benefits if you and your contacts all use the app exclusively. And since it’s iOS only, that leaves out a good deal of the smartphone population. But we can’t imagine that the big guys in Mountain View or Cupertino aren’t going to emulate an idea like this. This is what text messaging should be in 2014.