The biggest selling point of the new iPhone 4S is not its faster hardware or the improved camera. It’s an app Siri. Siri, the personal assistant with a personality, has wowed even the biggest iPhone critics. It is no wonder then that when an app called Iris was dubbed by TechCrunch as (Sort Of) Siri for Android, it raced past 50,000 downloads and made headlines in several popular tech-blogs.
Truth be told, Iris has a long way to go before it can hope to compete with Siri. However, that is hardly surprising given that the first alpha of Iris was coded in eight hours by an extremely tiny team, while Siri was in development for over a year.
Dexetra Software, the brain behind Iris, is a tiny Indian startup consisting of just nine members. Before Iris, they were best known for the self-discovery app Friday, and have developed dozens of other applications in several different platforms including Android and iOS.
Dexetra Software was established in the beautiful Indian city of Cochin in April 2010. All of its six founding members had more than two years of experience in various MNCs like Bosch and Wipro. Dexetra Software CEO Narayan Babu assembled a team consisting of two colleagues from Bosch and three college mates. After initially experimenting with multiple platforms and apps, by the end of 2010, Dexetra Software began to focus solely on Friday and expanded its team to nine. The first alpha release in February 2011 was extremely well received and the first stable release is scheduled to arrive in a few months.
Iris, which brought instant fame for Dextera Software, began as an experiment on a lazy Friday afternoon because a few hackers were feeling bored. In the words of Narayan Babu:
We have been working on NLP and Machine learning for over an year now, I had a crazy belief that I could pull this off. Somehow I managed to write a tiny engine that could answer your questions, digging the results from the web.
When we started seeing results, everyone got excited and started a high speed coding race. In no time, we added Voice input, Text-to-speech, also a lot of hueristic humor into Iris. Not until late evening we decided on the name “iris.”, which would be Siri in reverse. And we also reverse engineered a crazy expansion – Intelligent Rival Imitator of Siri.
I had a brief email conversation with M Vijith Menon, who developed a substantial portion of Iris. Here are the excerpts.
My name is Vijith Menon. I started work with Dexetra this January. And since then it has been an upward journey to a great work culture’ from a Technical College Life. I’m 23yrs young, and learning; did my B.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering from GRIT, Kottayam, Kerala. I began coding quite recently, and never thought could make a living out of it. But quite recently did I realize that, I have been programming whole my life, so there you have it!
After College I was looking for a job when I came by an advertisement for a requirement at Dexetra. From a junior Application Developer to a Technical Fellow, the 6 months at Dexetra were quite fun filled! I learnt about organization, coding, Version Control, and Testing. The journey continuesâ€¦ I have done application Development in WP7 and Android!
On how Iris works:
Iris is an application that uses the Android voice Recognition, Text to Speech engines and a whole chunk of pre academic and snazzy/snappy jesting brilliance! It has good, powerful and precise true knowledge! It is too early to say how it works, because it is in constant development! The general source of all answers is the World Wide Web.
On whether they had expected Iris to garner so much attention:
Never. As we declared on our blog, as well as in the articles in TechCrunch, it was a lazy Friday Hackathon. The idea came to Narayan Babu (it was more of a Challenge Accepted!state of mind) and he put me up with the general idea of the layout to be drawn, which he updated with designs, later. I daresay, it was quite easy!
On the future of Iris:
We vow to continue developing it, updates are being pushed regularly! We have released the widely stable version 1.0, with a futuristic ICS4 UI. Added features are voice actions (call, text, web search), which were not available in the early release. We are overwhelmed by the response, and user feedback is pouring in! Comparisons and competition will be left for the users to decide! More awesome features would be added pretty soon! No hurries, only steely determination!
On other projects in Dexetra:
We are in constant development of Friday, the life search app for Android. It has been in the works from before the time I joined Dexetra, and is improving every day! The app has completed private alpha, and will be out pretty soon! Many calls have come up already to integrate the two, Iris and Friday, because Voice and Search are such attractive traits for an app.
On whether he got the chance to play with the Android Ice Cream Sandwich SDK:
Yes, a little. But it is early to propound the uses/features. At the API level, fresh ones are available, but haven’t had much of a chance to use them! We’re yet to get a phone though!