How situationally intelligent apps are tackling the scourge of lateness


Google NowI’m no punctuality Nazi but I appreciate the effort that goes into showing up on time. And most days, I allot plenty of time to get to my appointments though when I do show up late, it can be by a lot.

But increasingly, mobile users have fewer excuses for showing up late. More mobile apps are applying situational awareness and intelligence to help prod and prompt people to be punctual. Apps like Google Now, Twist and Bounce are┬áleveraging what it can learn from a user’s calendar and analyzing it against current traffic conditions and a user’s present location. Then it can figure out the optimal moment to leave to ensure they show up on time.

Apps like this display a simple form of situational intelligence, in which software takes data from disparate systems and presents it in an intuitive way. It shows you what a smartphone can do as it gets access to more information from a user. Here’s how these three applications work:

  • Google Now, which is available of Android 4.1 devices, scans your Google Calendar and then lets you know when to leave based on your location and how how bad traffic is. It can navigate you to your appointment, and it can also show you traffic info and the total expected travel time when it senses that you’re headed to a regular destination like work.
  • Twist is an iPhone app that lets you share your estimated time of arrival with users. Users can enter in their destination or Twist can pull in calendar appointments. After you set a Twist, the app will tell you when to leave based on current conditions and then it will start broadcasting your ETA to recipients.
  • Bounce, which started on Android and is now moving to the iPhone, works like the other apps, combining calendar and traffic data to tell you when to leave. But it allows users to set their own buffer, so they can set aside extra time.

The apps, however, also reveal some shared limitations. For instance, the apps require users to keep an accurate calendar. And if their appointment location information is not filled out or is hard to determine, the apps can’t figure where you’re headed, so they don’t know when to prompt you to leave. The apps do try to understand where you’re going even when you don’t put in an address but it doesn’t always work perfectly. I’d also like to see the app work in more weather and events data, which can also affect when I need to leave.

Ultimately, getting somewhere on time is our own responsibility, and I wouldn’t completely rely on an app to ensure I get there on time. But it’s nice to see more useful tools that blend a lot of data and real-time context to help users be more efficient or smart.

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