Mobile personal assistant has gotten another upgrade, making the app not only more powerful in its ability to help users manage their busy lives, but also more responsive when things go somewhat askew. By providing more tools for users to manage notifications, and the added ability to automatically let meeting participants know when one party is going to be late, this digital assistant is becoming nearly as helpful as a human assistant.*
Donna, which was earlier this year, was designed to help its users keep track of the daily events in their lives and anticipate their needs when heading to meetings with others. That includes (but isn’t limited to) keeping tabs on traffic and notifying users when they’d have to leave, giving them directions to their meeting place, and even providing a weather forecast of the place that they were going.
It did that by using information from a user’s calendar, what it knew about his or her travel preferences (whether by car, bike, or public transport), and changing traffic and transit data to keep users better informed about when they’d have to leave for a meeting. And, in cases where they’d need to make a call or connect to a web or video conference, it would facilitate communications by deep linking from the home screen to connect users quickly and easily.
All of this was done in the background, which freed up users to, you know, get shit done without having to check their calendars all the time. For the most part, users have found the app useful, as it has a four-star rating with more than 350 reviews. And the average user is getting about 4.5 notifications a day to help streamline their busy lives.
The newest iteration of the Donna app — which is labeled version 2.0 — does more of the same, but the Incredible Labs team has made Donna more powerful, in terms of being able to not just communicate with a user, but also on behalf of one.
According to CEO Kevin Cheng, most users tend to send one of three messages when traveling to meet someone else — that is, either “I’m on my way,” “I’m running late,” or “I’m here, where are you?” With the newest version of Donna, users no long need to worry about the case of running late, as the app will notify other meeting participants by email if that’s the case.
While other apps provide the option to send that message, most require the user to click a series of buttons to do so — something that not everyone in transit will be able to do. Donna, by contrast, knows when its users are moving, generally how long it will take them to get to a place, and if they’re running late enough, let other people know without the user having to lift a finger.
It can also automatically share your location or expected arrival time.
But all of that depends on user preferences. Users can determine how proactive they want Donna to be — for instance, if they want the app sharing their location or just their ETA. Or if they want Donna to automatically send an email saying they’ll be late, or if they want to approve such a message via push notification first. The preferences also now let users designate how much time Donna gives them before notifying them that they have to leave.
That’s the biggest change to Donna, but not the only one — in addition to the more proactive contact features, and advanced preferences, the new version of the app has seen some subtle differences meant to optimize the interface for iOS 7. Some of that is purely cosmetic, but there are other additions, like background location and calendar fetching, that help users to provide the most up-to-date information.
Users can also add their own favorite locations, and over time Donna will learn where you live and work and you can add customized locations — like conference rooms that are named after the local bar, and the app won’t get confused.
, maker of Donna, has raised a total of $2.5 million from a group of investors that includes Khosla Ventures, Betaworks, Maynard Webb, CrunchFund, Ashton Kutcher, and a group of other angels.
* Not that I’ve ever actually had a real human assistant, mind you.