I recently came across a couple of new apps that utilize conversational design. Each focused on solving a different need. So I decided to experiment with them and share what I found. The apps are:

  • QUARTZ -  a news app:   iOS  |  (Android is being developed)
  • HOUND - a digital assistant:   iOS  |  Android

 

QUARTZ

Quartz mobile is the new app from the same-named news site. The interface replicates a chat window. When the user opens the app, headlines appear as new messages and after each one, the user can opt to learn more or see what’s next (it also often employs emoji in the “learn more” choice).

The nod to conversational design is obvious, and also fake. Currently, the user cannot ask Quartz for information on a particular topic. You can’t ask Quartz, “Tell me what’s breaking news in Boston?” for example. Quartz is effectively a slow scrolling newsfeed, without opportunity to either direct or personalize it. This is release 1, so it’s possible that functionality is coming (it becomes immediately more interesting if it does). It’s possible that it is learning more about the user based on the headlines they show interest in, but it is not immediately evident.

You can watch a TechCrunch review of Quartz here

 

HOUND

Hound is meant to be a Siri competitor. It’s onboarding is effective, asking the user to say specific questions, each one demonstrating a different capability of the app. I suspect that at the same time it is calibrating the app to the user’s speaking pattern. I’m not sure of this, but if it is a brilliant approach to teaching the user how to use the app while also making app setup simple.

If you want to learn about the current weather – either in your current location or somewhere else entirely, this app works smoothly. Contact integration is impressive. Saying a contact’s name brings that information up immediately. Saying “Text [contact name]” also works as expected. It does not however support email integration.

Hound also integrates iTunes so requesting a song usually results in success (if you don’t own it, you’ll get only the free sample through the service). It also has Uber integration.

I found voice recognition worked well, better than Siri. Where I struggled was not knowing all of the possible commands for Hound. When it doesn’t recognize a specific trigger in your question, the result is a google search for the exact phrase you spoke. While this can certainly be frustrating, it’s worth noting that in all instances it searched for the exact phrase or sentence I uttered. In other words, it’s speech recognition worked well. I’d like to see additional functionality added to the app, such as shopping. Hound will likely continue to grow in features as they improve the app.

Read a TechCrunch review of Hound here.

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