Virtual assistants have become de-rigeur among smartphone makers in recent years.
After Apple’s Siri, we got a beefed-up Google Now which could take voice commands from demanding mobile-owners, before Microsoft’s Cortana came along and tried to muscle in on every platform with its own brand of helpfulness.
Now though, after months of speculation, Facebook has entered the fray. Its new virtual assistant, Facebook M, is being tested now by select users near its Silicon Valley base.
The concept is similar to Siri, Cortana and Google Now. But there are two crucial differences which make it far more appealing than its at-times gimmicky rivals.
Firstly, it’s text based. This is a deal breaker for many when it comes to virtual assistants.
Try as they might, mobile’s biggest players cannot make speaking into your phone without another human on the end sound appealing.
Barking demands and requests at an inanimate object makes users feel stupid and only really works when they’re alone at home or in the car without the ability to swipe at a touchscreen.
Essentially, voice commands are a gimmick that Apple, Google and Microsoft have bought into and what you to buy into too.
Facebook M, however, only responds to typed requests.
This means it’s more limited in scope than, say, Siri, which can set up a satnav request and get you from A to B without you having to fiddle with your iPhone’s maps app while at the wheel.
But it does mean it should be much more accurate, with less chance of the virtual assistant misunderstanding what you’re asking for.
Facebook says M will use artificial intelligence overseen by people, meaning requests should be facilitated in a 'more human' manner than its rivals.
This plays into the second thing that makes this service from the social network stand out. Facebook M won’t just carry out requests on your device.
It’ll be able to do everything from making dinner reservations, book train tickets and ensure gifts get delivered.
Call us suckers, but this is doing the actual stuff you would want an assistant for. Asking your phone to cue up a song isn’t nearly as powerful as getting a social network to run vital errands for you.
It’s early days yet for Facebook M. The service is set to be part of the company’s Messenger app, which means it won’t draw data from your main Facebook page, and there are questions about how likely it would be able to fulfil requests once millions of users worldwide get on board.
However, initial impressions seem solid. Siri and Google Now might be impressive, but Facebook M looks more than just another gimmick to sell smartphones.