Nokia Bots and the Intelligent Mobile

I am totally cribbing the title from the post at Brighthand that I made about this. However, this is a good bit longer, and more following my thinking of this application and what it means for mobile devices.

I’ve got this major gripe with the mobile devices that we call smartphones – they aren’t all that smart. Yes, they are full of the hardware – and in some cases software – that desktops had less than a half decade ago. But, they aren’t really all that intelligent/understanding/wise/proactive/etc. You see, a mobile that is ascribed to having some aspect of intelligence should act on that. It should learn me and present me with what I need when I need it. And it should do it without me having to poke and prod for much of anything. Given where we are these days, I don’t think mobiles have been doing a good job of that… but that can and possibly will change now.

Last week, Nokia’s BetaLabs released this experimental application called Nokia Bots. Nokia Bots is a collection of four mini-apps which work in the background (that is: while you are using or not using your mobile) and learn about how you use it; and then present options or simply respond to how you’d use your mobile.

There are four mini-apps that come with Nokia Bots: Profile Bot, Battery Bot, Alarm Bot, and Shortcut Bot. The Profile, Battery, and Alarm Bots work basically off of those respective events. These take about 2 days to gather information about your use and then – using the widget on the homescreen of an N97 or N97 Mini – display the changes that your device would want to do. These changes are optional and you can choose to accept them or not (coming back to this point).

In the case of the Shortcut Bot, you add a new shortcuts widget to your homescreen and then this changes as the bot learns about those applications that you most frequently use. There’s no option here of which applications to accept or not, but it does a reasonably good job of displaying what you use the most.

And so what ends up happening is that your mobile (in my case, my N97) begins to learn my usage patterns and starts to respond before I’d put my hand to it. In effect, not just having information about my use (metrics and analytics), but putting it to practice (intelligence and understanding).

This is something that I’ve really been wanting to dig more into with mobile devices – even before reading this excellent piece by Rita @ Symbian Guru. For all of the ability that our mobiles have to do things, most of the time they do nothing until we poke them. Being able to teach my mobile, or that my mobile can learn my actions, and then it would simply respond just makes too much sense.

It adds the smart into the idea of a smartphone.

Some time back, I wrote an article at Brighthand where I had hoped that others would see that AI – or device intelligence and response – would sit as a major construct of how we understand smartphones. Here’s that definition that I proposed:

Smartphones are mobile devices which utilize cellular and wireless software to enhance the user experience of mobile-enabled services by connecting to those services by direct ties into the operating system and hardware of the mobile device.

Now, imagine these bots not just learning actions such as when you change a profile, or when you set regular alarms, but going as far as enabling or disabling wireless or web services in order to make communications or your device more efficient. Where the device learns that you don’t receive calls during a certain period and sends them all to SMS/MMS/VM, or that when you travel into a certain area that specific people are notified. If you will, your mobile not just taking on the point of being an off-loaded storage area for your brain, but it become an active secretary to interactions that free you to live better.

Ok, so that’s pushing it a bit far, but you can see my point and why Nokia Bots gets me excited. This is an example of a mobile user interface (UI) improving the overall user experience (UX) by responding to what I need, instead of me needing to poke it to respond to my need.

One of the ideas that I posted at Ideas.Symbian spoke about a widget-driven homescreen which moved widgets up and down, or open and closed them depending on the event  that the user needed to respond to (context-driven widget area). There would be some intelligence in play here. In effect, the user would just know that in turning on the mobile that the relevant information was always there – there would be no need to hunt for it. I see Nokia Bots (and other UIs in development) as a half-step towards this kind of user interaction.

In my opinion, we’ve got more than enough power, graphics, storage, and ability under the hood of our mobile devices. We now need to start extracting more ability from them by leveraging all of the data that we know that mobiles already have. And yes, an intelligent mobile will be a less-replaced one. But, the benefit of this kind of intelligence might merit newer opportunities and challenges for mobile device and services companies – ones which will require them to not just churn out “smaller, faster, better,” but actually think about how the advancing of technology (hardware, software, and services) work with our behaviors to enrich our lives.

Such intelligence has been in our hands all along. Its pretty neat that now we can start to see it come out and be smart.