Did Apple Buy Grokr?

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Circumstantial evidence may suggest that Apple has acquired the predictive search app Grokr. And if they haven’t done, they should do.

Grokr has been called the “Google Now for iOS.”

With Grokr’s predictive search capability and Siri’s natural language capability combined into a single feature could put Apple in the overall lead in the crucial area of virtual assistant technology.

Here’s why Apple needs to buy Grokr (and why I think they already did).

Why Apple Needs Grokr (Or Something Like It)

iPhone users who have seen head-to-head comparisons of Siri vs Google Now such as this one, or who have used Google Now on their iPhones, may be tempted to believe the two services are pretty evenly matched.

But both these data points are misleading. The comparisons ignore the half of Google Now that Siri doesn’t even attempt, which is the pre-emptive data gathering. Just launching Google Now shows you results you didn’t search for, suggesting places to go, displaying the weather, distance to favorite locations, people’s birthdays, sports scores and other things. It actually reads your email, finds things in there that could fall through the cracks, then takes action on them.

For example, when Google Now sees Fandango movie tickets in your inbox, it will monitor the traffic conditions between you and the theater and tell you when you need to leave in order to get to the movie on time, even without you asking for anything.

Also: Google Now on a Nexus type phone (which includes actual Nexi and soon both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One) is better than on a regular Android phone and way better than on the iPhone. On the Nexus type phones, Now is integrated into both the user interface and the apps, so you can not only launch apps with voice but also initiate functions in those apps. On a Nexus, you swipe your thumb and say “navigate home” and the audible turn-by-turn directions start instantly.

One major difference between Google Now and Siri is that Google has a Knowledge Graph and Apple doesn’t. Apple relies on Wolfram-Alpha for much of its “knowledge.”

Google’s Knowledge graph scales massively in two ways. First, the actions of over a billion everyday users of Google’s various products automatically feed and improve the results. And second, Google is constantly and aggressively optimizing performance at the server level.

Apple has no control over Wolfram-Alpha’s improvement and performance. If Wolfram-Alpha fails to keep up with the Knowledge Graph, Google Now will just keep pulling further ahead of Siri over time.

Grokr, on the other hand, has a knowledge graph of its own. It also has a mechanism for both gathering real-time traffic information and integrating it into predictive drive times. It can even interrupt you and tell you to leave if you want to be on time for the meeting on your calendar.

Grokr also gets to know you. It browses your iPhone’s music library, then tells you when your favorite band will be playing in town. It reads your social network feeds to find out what you’re interested in, then points you to personally relevant content.

Siri by itself is already no match for Google Now, and can’t keep up in the future. But Siri plus Grokr is a different story. Grokr gives Siri a knowledge graph, predictive analytics and all the rest.

Once in possession of Grokr, Apple could and should integrate it into Siri. The usage of the Grokr knowledge base by Apple’s massive user base would accelerate its improvement, too.

There’s no question Apple should buy Grokr. The question is: Have they already done it?

The Circumstantial Evidence for a Grokr Acquisition

I have no inside information that Apple has acquired Grokr, nor have I heard even a rumor to that effect. And there’s no direct evidence that such an acquisition has taken place. However, there is some circumstantial evidence:

* Apple CEO Tim Cook said at AllThingsD’s D11 conference this week that Apple has acquired nine companies in the current fiscal year, which started September 30. Most of them were done in secret and have not been disclosed.

* Apple will be “rolling out the future of iOS” at its WWDC event June 10 (in a week and a half from the time of this post).

* The conventional wisdom is that Siri is awesome, but Google Now is better precisely because Google Now does what Siri cannot do and what Grokr can do: Convert contextual signals into pre-emptive information, essentially providing search results for the information the user should have searched for but didn’t.

* Grokr has been pulled from the iOS app store.

* Grokr announced on its site this week that Grokr is being terminated, to be replaced by a new product that does the same thing called NEXT.

* NEXT? Really? Is that an homage to Apple’s most famous acquisition?

* Grokr says that existing users will have their Grokr service “turned off” on June 3 — exactly one week before the start of Apple’s WWDC. (Why would they disrupt users just to change the name?)

* Grokr has announced the launch of a beta program “in the coming weeks.”

Why This Is So Important

Within a few years, the virtual assistant will become the primary user interface for all mobile computers. We’ll just learn to talk to our phones and ask for things. And our phones will interrupt us to tell us what’s going on and suggest things.

A Grokr acquisition would accelerate Apple’s development of this capability just like buying Siri put them into the game in the first place.

I think there’s a good chance that Apple will announce the acquisition of Grokr in the coming weeks. And if they don’t, they’re likely to reveal another strategy for matching or exceeding Google Now in the future.

We’re leaving behind an era where products are central to mobile computing and entering one in which services rule. And intelligent virtual assistant service is the most important one of all.

Related
  • Whodakat

    It actually reads your email, finds things in there that could fall through the cracks, then takes action on them.

    Is that supposed to be a selling point? This is exactly why Google is evil. I don’t want anyone reading my email. Especially someone who makes billions of dollars selling information about me. 100 years from now, when my iPhone can receive my brain waves then I’ll be ok with predictive searching, but until then I’m going to keep my emails private and just suffer through waiting for an answer until after I ask the question.

  • Mike

    100 years from now, when my iPhone can receive my brain waves then I’ll be ok with predictive searching, but until then I’m going to keep my emails private and just suffer through waiting for an answer until after I ask the question.

    So a computer invading your physical brain and reading your private thoughts is OK, but relevant advertising of things you actually want is an outrage. Well, alrighty then.

  • VotersRights

    Mike, I hope they did buy Grokr, but that would only fix part of the Siri problem. Siri’s transcription skills are horrible compared to Google Now, and responses are much slower. Both of those also need to drastically improve to compete with Google Now. I tried out my nephew’s Android tablet for an hour last week, and while I’l still never buy into Android, it made me angry that Siri is so lacking by comparison to Google Now.

  • Mike

    Siri’s transcription skills are horrible compared to Google Now

    I’ve heard that from other people as well, but my experience with Siri’s transcription (which is “powered” by Nuance) has been very good.

  • joe smith

    Google reading your emails is only the beginning.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrontojPWEE&feature=player_embedded

  • Obsidian71

    Downloaded Grokr and found it to be pretty slow and provided info that was irrelevant to my daily needs. If Apple purchased Grokr i’m sure the impact would be along the impact of them acquiring Chomp..which means basically nothing.

  • Whodakat

    So a computer invading your physical brain and reading your private thoughts is OK, but relevant advertising of things you actually want is an outrage. Well, alrighty then.

    Invading is rather inflammatory, but provided the link between man and machine doesn’t have to run through some corporate server, I’m all for it. Companies don’t need to know what we are thinking, until we tell them.

  • pmontanarella

    This sounds pretty awesome. On a slightly unrelated topic, I just took a look at the Grokr website and the app has a really “flat” design similar to Google Now. If Apple did acquire the company, it could also be an indicator for a push to flat design.

    Just a few thoughts,
    Pietro

  • Eric_M_White

    I would like to think they did, but the fact that they have announced the new name and are allowing users to sign up for the beta makes me doubt it. The preview images are interesting though. A flat UI and icons that are eerily similar to Apple’s icons. Guess we will find out, but I signed up for the beta just in case!

  • technochick

    If Apple did buy them they wouldn’t be launching a new version. They would just be shutting down

  • klikekyle

    Yes they did. Their blog says it will be shut down on June 3rd and the app is no longer available in the App Store.

  • Bulldogger123

    If Apple did buy them they wouldn’t be launching a new version. They would just be shutting down

    Why would you need to shut down to launch a new version?

  • julia55240637

    uptil I looked at the draft ov $7687, I didnt believe that my cousin was like truly erning money part time on their apple labtop.. there best friend haz done this for only about twenty three months and just now cleared the depts on there cottage and got a great Honda. read more at,… http://WWW.FOX86.?OM

  • cgdoc519

    They are calling their new service next. AND when you go to http://www.next.com watch what it pulls up. Could just be coincidence though. But you would think that they would not choose a name like next without Apples permission.

  • technochick

    They are calling their new service next. AND when you go to http://www.next.com watch what it pulls up. Could just be coincidence though. But you would think that they would not choose a name like next without Apples permission.

    Apple has owned next.com for years. Got it when they bought NeXT

    And they don’t have a trademark on the word next for every use. So it’s just straws

  • Dave Small

    If you do a whois on Grokrlabs.com and you will see that it now belongs to google, with the usual “1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043″ address for technical contact. So maybe Google bought them in order to make google now more powerful?

  • rsalermo

    Any updates on this story? It seems like they just dropped off.

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Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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