This year has one underlying thread: context. The most glaring example of context is with our mobile devices. Siri and Google Now are nothing new, but Motorola’s take on contextual awareness and information continues to amaze. Google Now saw some sublime updates as well, but some just don’t want the Google ecosystem knowing their every move.
Further complicating matters is Siri’s focus on conversation rather than pure information. Yahoo, it seems, may have an offering to rival all others, and reminds us a lot of a Moto X. The winner here is that Yahoo’s offering would operate as a third party utility, and not be subject to any device or — presumably — operating system.
What Yahoo understands is that operating systems are less important than ecosystems. A resurgent Yahoo recently acquired SkyPhrase, a natural language processing company. If recent reports are correct, and Yahoo is indeed coming to mobile with a third-party personal assistant, then that acquisition lends credence to it. There is a video floating around, in which the ‘Yahoo Voice Assistant’ looks to be shown off, but it’s half a professional looking video on a hosting platform we’ve not heard of, put there by someone with an apparently fake name and no other videos to speak of. The video is also marked "private", but doesn't ask for a password or deny entry.
Skyphrase is also joining Yahoo Labs, a research arm of Yahoo. A finished video — even half done — seems out of place for something that just got a really intuitive language engine. According to reports, Skyphrase was doing things even the normally verbose Siri couldn’t handle, and the video shows someone editing a text message in a way we’ve never seen before. Either Yahoo had the technology already (then made half an attempt at video for it) and didn’t want to license it, or the video isn’t real.
If Yahoo really is bringing a personal assistant to our mobile devices, we’re excited to see it. It will almost certainly be free, and operate without the constraints of operating systems. Said to operate like Facebook's Chat Heads, a concept we really liked, a Yahoo voice assistant could be more useful that Google Now in that regard. It will also bring people back to Yahoo, which is increasingly Google-ish every time we hear about them.