In the three months since iOS(s AAPL) app Donna opened up its beta, the iPhone-as-personal assistant space has only gotten more crowded. And two of the companies that are eyeing it are as big as they get: Apple, with some basic new features in iOS 7, and Google Now(s GOOG) for iOS. But as Donna officially opens to the public starting Thursday, its creators still think the big guys aren’t as focused on business productivity.
Donna uses calendaring, mapping, weather, location, contacts and more to help its users keep to a daily schedule of appointments. As I wrote earlier:
It takes your appointment details from your phone’s calendar, uses your contacts, your location and the location of where you need to be next to tell you where and when you need to leave to make your next appointment on time. It cuts out fiddling with your phone to figure out directions, the weather or what’s coming next on your calendar.
It does other things to mimic a real human assistant too: you get a push notification when it’s time to leave for your next meeting; you get an update at the end of the day about what’s on the schedule for tomorrow; and if it’s raining at the location you’re heading too it’ll let you know to bring an umbrella.
All of those features remain in the launch version, but the team behind Donna — including former Twitter product lead Kevin Cheng — has fine-tuned the app and added in a few more features. Cheng told me that users of the beta will notice the new version of Donna doesn’t drain the iPhone’s battery as quickly and the app runs faster. The look is also a big change: the retro female assistant logo icon is replaced simply by a typewritten “d.”
Other new features include: after leaving for an appointment, a button in the app will pop up that can email a person or group that you’re running late. If the meeting location has been entered into the app, Donna can also use your location to automatically tell them how far away you are. If you have the Uber app installed, and Donna knows it’s time for you to get on your way to an appointment, a button will pop up to call a car through the service.
Donna is just the latest example of an app combining sources of mobile data to aid an iOS user without having to be asked for help. In general, apps that help users accomplish things, especially productivity apps, are a rapidly growing category, especially on iOS — Donna has much more cause to worry about fellow small third-party app makers than a random new feature in iOS 7 and Google’s all-encompassing services.
The app is free (and ad-free) and will be available starting Thursday in the U.S. iOS App Store only for now.