Startups of the week #11.1

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are fast becoming hotspots for technological innovation. Is this new iOS and Android app one of the best examples yet?

1. Evi

When Apple launched the iPhone 4S, the handset's biggest feature was undoubtedly Siri – a voice-activated 'virtual assistant'.

Siri was initially available as an iOS app, powered by speech recognition software from a company called Nuance. Apple bought Siri Inc., a spinoff from Stanford Research Institute, in early 2010 and then built the technology into the software that powers the iPhone 4S.

But, for some, Siri wasn't enough of a temptation to pay the substantial prices for the new handset.

What if the same technology, powered by Nuance, was now available as an iOS (for all iterations of iPhone and iPad) and Android app?

Evi is that app – and it's brilliant. Evi responds to touch or text input and learns users' preferences (as they rate the app's responses to queries)*. Built by Cambridge's True Knowledge, the company behind the world's first "internet answer engine", Evi has ruffled a few feathers in its short existence.

Last week, Apple contacted True Knowledge to say they were going to pull the Evi app from iTunes – citing the App Store's Terms and Conditions ("Apps which appear confusingly similar to an existing Apple product or advertising theme will be rejected"). To be fair, Evi looks a little like Siri, but as True Knowledge's CEO told TechCrunch:

"I don't think it takes too much of a leap of the imagination to realise that 'confusingly similar' is code for 'competitive with' – and that all the user and press reviews along the lines of 'now you don't need to buy a 4S – you can download Evi', 'better than Siri' etc. have resulted in a change of heart from Apple about allowing its users to get the app."

Apple have since relented from this position, saying as long as Evi gets a facelift it'll be allowed to stay in the App Store. So if you're an iPhone [69p on iTunes] or Android [free] user, why not download Evi and start using the future of human/ computer interactions?

* [It's worth noting that, whilst Evi is superb at what it does; the app, unlike the iPhone 4S' Siri, is unable to connect to the handset's other features (like the calendar or messaging platforms). This somewhat limits its usefulness on iOS. As Android allows cross-app integration, this isn't such an issue on hardware running Android.

Evi also occasionally doesn't quite get the semantics of questions posed, leading the user to interact with the app in a more acceptable way.]