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I’m twenty-four. I grew up with the Internet, and I have a computer science degree. I write about technology for a living. Some might use the cringeworthy term “digital native” to describe me, although I certainly wouldn’t.

An unfortunate consequence of this is I’m seen as the official on-call technology expert for my extended family. It’s not unheard of for my weekend to be punctuated by someone asking me to set up their new smartphone or “defrag their computer” (Translation: quarantine and remove 15 years of accumulated toxic malware).

But with great responsibility comes great power, and this position lets me pick the best technology choices for my family. On the smartphones of my older relatives, I’ve installed Assistant AI by SpeakToIt (available for Windows 10, iPhone, Android, and Chrome OS) and told them to use it in lieu of Siri or Google Now 6 Google Now Features That Will Change How You Search 6 Google Now Features That Will Change How You Search You may already be using Google Now on your Android device, but are you getting all that you can out of it? Knowing about these small features can make a big difference. Read More .

Why? Because Assistant AI is the best virtual personal assistant for seniors.

“Who’s That Girl?”

It’s funny. Siri and Cortana are both highly prominent virtual personal assistant apps. What they both have in common is that there’s something tangibly human about them.

Siri and Cortana feel more than just sophisticated algorithms. They’re both names. They both have personality. Siri will get outraged when you swear at her, while Cortana has a repertoire of dad jokes.

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Hell, they both even have genders. My colleague Christian Cawley once referred to it as “the other woman in my life” How Cortana Became The "Other Woman" In My Life How Cortana Became The "Other Woman" In My Life She appeared one day and changed my life. She knows exactly what I need and has a wicked sense of humour. It's little wonder that I've fallen for the charms of Cortana. Read More . What other software packages – except perhaps with the exception of Microsoft Bob – do you know of that are male or female?

But there’s something also quite robotic about both of these. You never see what Cortana looks like (that is, unless you fire up Halo), and you never see Siri’s lips move.

Assistant AI is different. It has its own animated avatar, who you speak to directly. You can even customize its appearance, changing its hair and outfits. When you talk to it, it gives you visual feedback that it’s working.

Avatar

This matters because it’s reassuring. If you’ve grown up around smartphones and the Internet, you’re confident. But if you’re a latecomer, you’ll lack that confidence.

Gamification for Grannies

What makes Duolingo such an effective tool for language learning is that it uses gamification strategies 3 Unusual Ways Gamification Is Changing Your Life Today 3 Unusual Ways Gamification Is Changing Your Life Today Gamification is about motivation, participation, and loyalty. It is a popular trend and a powerful business strategy. But have you noticed its subtle impact on your daily life? Read More to great effect. Different aspects of learning a language – like vocabulary, sentence structure, and verb conjugation – are condensed into bite-sized lessons. Completion of these lessons earns you points, which are required to “level up”. Each level is a sign of your growing proficiency in French, Spanish, or whatever other language.

Assistant AI does something really similar. To unlock more advanced features, you have to level up. To level up, you have to earn points. To earn points, you have to perform tasks, like creating calendar events and sending messages. This sounds long-winded and frustrating, but there’s method to the madness.

LevelingUp

It familiarizes the user with the app. It’s the absolute opposite of the existing virtual personal assistants – like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now – where you’re dropped in the deep end and expected to figure out how to use it by yourself. Assistant AI will take you by the hand and gently guide you through its features.

Assistant AI Speaks Your Language

It’s incredible to see how divergent the English language is between the generations. One of the starkest illustrations of this went viral recently.

Ben John – 25, from Wigan, England – opened his grandmother’s laptop, and in her open tabs was a Google search. His grandmother wanted to translate some Roman numerals, and had started her query with “Please” and “Thank you”. She thought that there was a human responding to her search, and she did not wish to seem impolite.

politegrandmother

Let’s contrast that with how young people use technology. We’re terse. We get to the point. We know that there’s no need for social niceties when dealing with an emotionless algorithm. Through practice we’ve learned how to phrase and structure our questions to get the results we want.

Assistant AI is surprisingly tolerant of waffle. It can compensate for “ums” and “ahs“, and filler language like “I mean” and “like“. You can structure your query in a dizzying amount of ways, and still get the results you need. If you make a mistake, you can manually type a correction.

TypeError

It’s also trainable. You can teach Assistant AI to respond to certain phrasing. This is great if some of your relatives struggle to remember and apply certain tech-related terminology and phraseology. Beyond this, there’s also a powerful AI algorithm What Artificial Intelligence Isn't What Artificial Intelligence Isn't Are intelligent, sentient robots going to take over the world? Not today -- and maybe not ever. Read More which constantly takes notes of the user’s preferences and influences the results.

You can even say “please” and “thank you”.

It Does Virtually Everything Siri and Google Now Do

Assistant AI lacks the high profile of its larger competitors. Even compared to niche-focused personal virtual assistants, like the productivity-oriented EasilyDo EasilyDo Or Google Now: Which Is The Better Personal Assistant? EasilyDo Or Google Now: Which Is The Better Personal Assistant? EasilyDo is a virtual personal assistant for iOS and Android that can be compared to Google Now. In fact, as we'll discover shortly, it's much better. Read More , few have heard of it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less capable.

It can do any of the jobs that a personal virtual assistant might be tasked with, like sending text messages and updating calendars. For 99% of the people who use Siri and Google Now and never touch their advanced features, Assistant AI is good enough.

CallJavvad

Lots of the auxiliary tasks performed by personal virtual assistants, like checking flight times and changing the track on Spotify can also be done by Assistant AI. Unfortunately, many of these non-core features are only available in the premium version. This can be unlocked with an in-app purchase (IAP) Why You'll Never Stop Seeing Ads & IAPs in Mobile Apps Why You'll Never Stop Seeing Ads & IAPs in Mobile Apps Advertisements and in-app purchases in mobile apps and games can be really annoying. Unfortunately, they won't be going away any time soon. Here's why. Read More .

VoiceActivation

Annoyingly, so too is voice activation, meaning that if you wish to launch it by saying “Hey Assistant”, you’ll have to whip out your credit card. Thankfully, it does allow you to replace Google Now in the launcher, meaning that you can open it by holding down the “home” soft key and swiping upwards.

Assistant AI Is Not for Everyone, But It’s Great for Seniors

I’m not going to pretend for a moment that Assistant AI is for everyone. Many will feel patronized by its cutsey manga-esque avatars. Much of its functionality is replicated elsewhere, but without the burden of paying for a premium subscription. For around 90% of people, they’d be best served by sticking with the incumbent personal virtual assistants.

But there’s something about Assistant AI’s approach to this sphere that makes it a great option for those with an uncertain footing in technology. I wouldn’t – and don’t – hesitate to install it on the phones of my elder relatives.

Are there any other apps you think are suited to seniors? Tell me about them in the comments below.

Image Credits:touching a mobilephone by Ocskay Mark via Shutterstock

  1. Rajitha Liyanage
    July 30, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Never had an iPhone and used cortana just to see what it was like. I use OK google daily however.
    Anyways, I can actually have a little conversation with the "assistant", something I could not do with OK Google. I also noted that you cannot make it work offline. Whereas with google I can do simple tasks like setting alarms and open apps even though I am offline.
    Mine has a the voice of a robot, however premium version comes with better TTS options.

    • Matthew Hughes
      July 31, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      All in all, do you like it?

      • Rajitha Liyanage
        August 1, 2016 at 12:51 pm

        Well I liked it, but uninstalled it yesterday and went back to Google Now.

        I am more interested in how my Makeuseof avatar got the picture of another guy since I used my google login here xD

  2. HildyJ
    July 12, 2016 at 5:56 am

    As a senior who started programming in 1967, possibly before your parents were born I will try to ignore any condescension that might have crept into your post. The problem with apps is that documentation is sorely lacking. Of all the people in the world who will RTFM, seniors are probably the most likely to do it . . . if a manual existed. Mostly they don't.

    The Windows command line is incredibly powerful and, since it was written by boomers, if you open it and type in a ?, it will list all the commands it recognizes and describe them. If you ask Google Now what commands it recognizes, it brings up a web search for that, even though the Google Now program "knows" what commands it has been programmed to recognize.

    Beyond that, too many things are illogical, e.g. Google Calendar has a card for airline flights which links to Google Now if you get a confirmation email but if your son calls you with his flight number it is impossible to manually enter it in Calendar as an airline flight [at least I think so after an hour of searching and more XDA threads than I care to remember]. Why?

    So if you want a "senior friendly" app, program it the way applications (not apps) are programmed - first document how the app is supposed to work and then program the app to work that way. Seniors who didn't program were users who dealt with 3270 CICS terminals, PCs with WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 before WYSIWYG, Outlook in its infancy, et cetera. We can handle learning an app without gameification if the developer would Write The F-ing Manual. It's not like we like asking millennials for help.

    • Perry F. Bruns
      July 12, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      WTFM. I like it!

    • Matthew Hughes
      July 12, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      Hey HildyJ,

      I wasn't trying to be condescending. Apologies if it came across that way. It wasn't intended.

      As for your points, I agree that not all boomers are crap with technology. But do you think you're an outlier? Like you said, you've been programming since 1967. That's long before home computing was a thing, and even longer before it became mainstream.

      My parents (born in the 1950s) and my grandparents (born in the 1920s) both started using computers and phones in the 2000s. A lot of apps that make sense to me, and my generation, simply don't to them.

      I blame that to design.

      I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

      Best wishes,
      Matt Hughes

      • HildyJ
        July 12, 2016 at 7:43 pm

        I admit I'm an outlier but keep in mind that many boomers used computers at work even if they didn't have one at home. Also, they learned to program and operate unconnected computing devices; from answering machines to microwaves to VCRs because there were instructions.

        I think you're right about the importance of UI. Ideally, it should be intuitively self evident how to use an app or the app should provide clear help screens. Assistants are awful at this. It's too often a case of "try it and see if it works."

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