Y Combinator-backed Xix.ai needs to foretell what you’ll do subsequent in your telephone
Above: The Xix.ai crew. From left, Emil Mikhailov, Alex Skidanov, and Illia Polosukhin.
Picture Credit score: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat
The opposite evening I checked my telephone and I had a Fb Messenger notification from Emil Mikhailov, cofounder and chief govt of 1-year-old startup Xix.ai. Connected was a screenshot of his Android homescreen. Within the center was a card displaying his assembly the following morning with a distinguished Silicon Valley investor. Beneath it had been buttons for instructions to the assembly and the e-mail thread related to the calendar occasion. And nonetheless under that had been eight apps that the launcher thought can be most related to him at that second.
“I absolutely love it!” wrote Mikhailov. “It shows me my upcoming event and associated action items.”
By “it” he was referring to Xix One, the Android launcher he and his crew developed. The screenshot confirmed an early model of Xix (pronounced X-I-X — or you’ll be able to simply name it 19) working on his Samsung Galaxy S7. He hated Android; he missed speaking along with his spouse, Anna, on iMessage. Certain, he advised me, there was completely room for the launcher to get smarter — he thought it might have been higher for Xix One to point out him the cardboard proper earlier than he left for the assembly with the investor, fairly than the evening earlier than. However nonetheless, it was much more related than the default grid of apps that you simply usually see. Plus, the launcher was already smarter than it had been within the earlier days.
If Mikhailov and crew have their means, all of us with Android telephones could have such a very customized content material in our arms, on the prepared. Very quickly.
Subsequent week Xix will current at startup accelerator Y Combinator’s demo day. It can be a part of greater than 100 startups pitching buyers. Mikhailov hopes to discover a match with buyers excited by the crew’s long-term plan to radically enhance mobile-first personalization.
In spite of everything, they’ve an actual product that works. However they wish to go additional. They mainly wish to present a sensible assistant to assist individuals get issues executed extra effectively. Not like Alexa, Cortana, Google, Siri. One thing totally different. One thing higher.
One thing that may draw on available information sources and modern synthetic intelligence (AI) programs. However the system Mikhailov foresees will work in a means that immediately solely actually exists as an thought. Possibly it’ll work, and it’ll turn out to be pervasive due to its worth. Possibly it’ll simply be a vibrant thought within the cellular ecosystem that solely turns into a footnote to a Wikpedia article about Android launchers. However heck, it’s attention-grabbing.
From probability encounter to a beloved Corgi
A yr in the past none of this existed.
Mikhailov, the founding father of one of many Bay Space’s AI meetup teams, was simply one other man hanging out at a coffeeshop — particularly Epicenter Cafe in San Francisco’s tech-heavy SoMa neighborhood. Whereas nursing his double espresso, he appeared on the individual in entrance of him and noticed a man hunched over a laptop computer, studying a tutorial paper, in a T-shirt that stated one thing in Russian a couple of St. Petersburg programming competitors. The paper was “Sequence to Sequence Learning with Neural Networks” from 2014, by Ilya Sutskever, Oriol Vinyals, Quoc V. Le.
“Hey, I read this paper recently,” Mikhailov advised the man, whose title is Alex Skidanov. Skidanov ended up serving to him run the meetup group. Inside months they had been speaking about startup concepts.
It’s nearly a scene out straight out of central casting: a pair of Russian-speaking dudes who’re into AI. Mikhailov, 27, is extra of the operations and enterprise man, and Skidanov is the man who writes the code. Mikhailov speaks thoughtfully, slowly; Skidanov, 30, shoots out one sarcastic line after one other. Collectively they complement one another as a founding duo.
Just a few months in the past Skidanov felt the time had come to maneuver on from MemSQL, the place he had spent 5 years, most lately as director of engineering. He spent a few months as a advisor to nonprofit AI analysis startup OpenAI. Then he formally joined Xix. They determined they might construct an assistant for Android. So by necessity, Skidanov went to work familiarizing himself with Android, sitting alongside Mikhailov in a SoMa coworking house, the identical place the place they at all times host their meetup occasions.
The very first thing they constructed was a recurrent neural community (RNN). They knew what they needed to create, however they didn’t have a reputation for it. In order that they scraped AngelList and took the names and descriptions for startups and used it to coach the RNN, after which that they had it produce some names. One of many first ones was Xix. They thought that appeared cool. However they puzzled what they might say when individuals would inevitably ask them what it means. As a joke, they figured they may say it was 11 occasions — or XIx — higher than the closest competitor.
Their second effort was a nerdy-looking web site that appeared like a terminal window: black background, traces of textual content in inexperienced. A minimum of it did one thing — it conveyed that they had been about constructing cool know-how. It even gave a clue of what the startup was as much as when you rolled up your sleeves and typed
cat about.txt into the command line. “Using latest advances in deep learning to build a next-generation mobile AI OS for augmenting human intelligence,” it spat again.
In November they bought into Y Combinator. To verify they didn’t get distracted, they moved into the SoMa residence the place Mikhailov lived with Anna. They spent a variety of time determining what they wanted to do to construct what they needed to construct.
In January, Xix launched an app known as Jyr Assistant within the Google Play Retailer. The app decorates your homescreen with a cute little Corgi, kind of like Batman, Skidanov’s real-life Corgi. If you faucet on the canine, which persists throughout apps like a Fb Messenger chat bubble, you see a listing of deep hyperlinks into apps like Google Maps, Uber, and Lyft, in addition to buttons that take you to an overlay displaying a map of the place you’re, and an overlay on your calendar for the following few days. The overlays used the identical theme because the Xix web site: modern inexperienced on black background.
Picture Credit score: Screenshot
As Jyr gained customers, Xix gained info of what individuals had been doing on their telephones. Over the course of some updates, Xix gave Jyr extra capabilities.
In early February the duo launched a second Android app, MotivAction. It enables you to monitor how lengthy you spend in sure apps, like Fb and Twitter, and it will possibly even restrict your use of these apps when you’d like. It was a standalone app that you may bounce into and out of, as a substitute of one thing that was with you in your telephone on a regular basis.
And later in February, Mikhailov and Skidanov launched Xix One. It drew just a little bit from Jyr, as a result of it surfaced calendar info and since it saved up the black and inexperienced theme. And it drew some from MotivAction, as a result of its information smarts derive from what’s onscreen. However Xix One was a full-on launcher that took the place of a telephone’s homescreen. There was a window with upcoming calendar occasions in a tiny typeface, together with a window displaying your most up-to-date emails. However there have been additionally some smaller home windows with app icons. Xix One was predicting which apps individuals would wish to use subsequent — and with every day it bought higher at doing that. At occasions, as a substitute of displaying app icons, it might present deep hyperlinks into content material inside apps — particular person tweets, SMS conversations, even web sites. On the underside proper was a giant X icon — it stood for Xix, in fact — that will allow you to rapidly get to the telephone app, the default browser, and the app drawer.
Above: The primary model of Xix One.
Picture Credit score: Screenshot
Subsequent Polosukhin, then MAYA
Later in February, the blokes bought a 3rd cofounder, one other Russian speaker who was into AI: Illia Polosukhin, contemporary out of Google Analysis. The 27-year-old had met Skidanov years earlier when the 2 had been concerned in programming competitions. Polosukhin’s first order of enterprise was incorporating a three-layer synthetic neural community into the app with a purpose to make higher app predictions. It was based mostly on TensorFlow, Google’s personal open-source framework for deep studying, a stylish kind of AI.
However that wasn’t all that he did. He additionally whipped up a system to ask customers how their day was each evening earlier than bedtime. Customers might select a smiling face, a clean expression, or a frowning face. That info sounds easy, however it will possibly present a suggestions loop to assist Xix perceive what individuals prefer to occur throughout the day, which in flip can result in higher predictions and options.
Inside a few weeks, whereas visiting Y Combinator’s headquarters in Mountain View, Mikhailov bought some vital suggestions. One associate stated the app didn’t look excellent, was too restrictive, and had no exit button. One other associate advised Mikhailov in regards to the MAYA Principle. MAYA stands for “most advanced, yet acceptable.” It says that you must construct issues that may direct individuals towards the long run however are on the identical time comprehensible given the place these individuals are actually. It’s why the Apple Newton by no means took off however the iPod and iPhone did, even because it developed to a touchscreen that resembled a Newton. In that dialog, it grew to become clear to Mikhailov that the Xix One launcher can be too international to some individuals and may by no means take off.
He went again to the startup’s workplace and knowledgeable Polosukhin and Skidanov that they must provide you with a brand new design, one thing that will work nicely with individuals’s acquainted Android atmosphere, one thing that wouldn’t appear to be a terminal window. They urgently rebuilt the app after which launched the brand new model as an replace in two weeks. The brand new model had solely barely totally different performance however supplied a much more approachable person interface — in addition to Polosukhin’s nightly suggestions examine.
As a substitute of taking on the whole show, the second model of the launcher makes use of a lot of the center however leaves room for the usual Android app tray and some extra apps on the underside. The black and inexperienced theme was changed by a stack of, usually, 4 playing cards you’ll be able to swipe via — calendar occasions, the most recent emails, current contacts, and locations to go together with Uber or Lyft — and under that, a group of eight “predicted apps” that Xix thinks you’ll wish to use subsequent. Person suggestions was clear: The launcher appeared extra acquainted and user-friendly.
Above: The second model of Xix One, with a revised suggestions card.
Picture Credit score: Screenshot
Not that the crew was completely proud of the product. At some point whereas I used to be visiting Skidanov known as for everybody’s consideration. Usually he saved to himself, sporting headphones, observing a giant monitor, typing coldly right into a Kinesis Advantage mechanical keyboard that was hooked as much as an enormous PC tower working Ubuntu — however now he needed to point out us one thing. He grabbed his previous Galaxy Be aware four telephone with the unique launcher on it. By pushing a couple of buttons on his laptop, all of the app icons took on a glowing inexperienced hue. He laughed a maniacal snicker. Then with the push of one other few buttons, the whole desktop wallpaper within the background turned inexperienced. He laughed once more, this time much more devilish. He appeared up at me, grinning, and I grinned again. I preferred the look myself, and I actually preferred how a lot info was squished in to the house display screen. You simply needed to be cautious you didn’t faucet on the flawed factor.
Inside per week the trio was testing out a redesign that included a vibrant, Googley background colour for the stack of playing cards, together with a label for every card. And that’s when Mikhailov discovered himself genuinely impressed with the launcher and gushed to me over Messenger.
The pursuit of magic
“One consistent thing people were telling us — they said one word, and it was magic,” Mikhailov advised me one evening over dinner subsequent to one in all Google’s bayside San Francisco workplaces. “They said, ‘I want to see the magic.’ There’s no magic in there. We realized people wanted fucking magic. What would be the magic? The magic is you have very precise, time-sensitive predictions and actions associated with them, something that you don’t need extra effort for them. You just confirm this, just confirm it for me.”
That will get on the future the place Xix is headed. The three guys are constructing software program that may be capable to do extra difficult duties for you with out you even asking for them. It can know what you need as a result of it has seen you do these issues earlier than. You’ll simply must say sure, that’s what I need, and all the pieces will probably be taken care of.
Above: Skidanov and his Google Pixel with the third model of Xix One.
Picture Credit score: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat
It can do this stuff by primarily farming out cellular duties to digital variations of your telephone. It will likely be capable of enter your lengthy password for you. It will likely be capable of take info from one app and enter it into one other app. It will provide you with much less silly little stuff to do.
In different phrases, the driving thought behind Xix is to waste much less time.
Skidvanov walked me via an instance of how issues work immediately. Let’s say you wish to discover a good restaurant and go there. You may open the Yelp app, browse or search, select a restaurant that appears good, copy the tackle to the clipboard, then open Uber, wait a couple of seconds till the app reveals your location, paste within the tackle of the restaurant, alter the textual content so it registers in Uber, obtain a immediate to log in once more because it’s been some time because you final used Uber, so that you open up Lyft as a substitute, wait a couple of seconds till it’s prepared, hit OK on a pop-up message, faucet the “pickup” button, paste within the tackle, edit it, after which order the automotive.
“That’s not the most uncommon use case. That’s something people do,” he stated.
In some instances, apps deliberately get in the way in which of taking direct actions with a purpose to generate income — by displaying you advertisements, for instance. Xix has already discovered methods to avoid that, with deep hyperlinks to emails, rides to explicit locations, and so forth. However there’s extra to do. Sooner or later, Xix will delegate processes to apps working within the cloud.
“In my head it all makes sense,” Skidanov stated, momentarily placing apart the biting wit and conveying a few of his actual visionary thought.
There are a selection of the way this might play out. It could possibly be that Xix will attempt to bundle the software program on new telephones. Possibly over time the launcher will give strategy to a forked model of Android, Mikhailov stated.
In any case, he’s come to simply accept that whereas they do have a working product, they’re constructing one thing which may not have a giant payoff immediately. It might take time.
“We’ll just do something that is way better than the iPhone,” he stated. “I mean, it would be hard, but why not?”