App Smart

A smarter phone becomes a personal assistant

EasilyDo tries to do some of the jobs a real-life personal assistant would do.
EasilyDo tries to do some of the jobs a real-life personal assistant would do.New York Times/NYT

Artificial intelligence is a longstanding science fiction staple that is coming into its own. Google, Facebook, Apple, and others are all developing AI tools. You can try out some apps today that demonstrate fledgling forms of the technology by smartly, swiftly, and automatically doing tasks that would otherwise take lots of effort.

The Roll

Free for iOS

The Roll, for example, is a new intelligent app that can help organize the thousands of photos that you take with your phone. The app scans a photo library, analyzing each image and trying to spot which ones are similar. It then groups pictures together so copies can be deleted.


The app also assigns a score to each image as a measure of its quality. The artificial intelligence that does this is quite clever: A professionally taken portrait of me scored nearly 90 percent in the app, but a snapshot I had just taken of my cat, paying little heed to lighting and composition, got 20 percent. The software is not flawless — a professional fashion image that I shot in a studio scored 50 percent — but it does give a sense of which photos are better or worse, which is handy for knowing what to share online.

Best of all, The Roll recognizes what your images are about. The app automatically tags pictures with options like fashion, beauty, and animals. The result is a neatly compiled photo archive that can be browsed by tapping on a tagged collection of images in the app or by searching for a keyword.


Basic level free for iOS and Android

EasilyDo offers similar AI-based organization and tries to do some of the jobs a real-life personal assistant would do. It works by connecting directly to e-mail accounts, such as Gmail and Exchange, and to other services and apps like Facebook, Evernote, and LinkedIn.


EasilyDo collects information from those sources so it can send an alert when you need to set off for a meeting scheduled in your calendar. It can also get status updates on flights or track packages, create calendar events based on business e-mails, and tidy up your contacts list.

Many features take some time to learn, but it is well designed and has made my online life a little less stressful.

Though most of its features are free, access to the full range (like one feature that connects to Salesforce to log professional sales information) starts at around $5 a month.

EasilyDo Inc. also has a new free e-mail app that applies to your in-boxes some of the same smart automation ideas used in its digital assistant. It offers a unified in-box for different accounts, one-tap unsubscribing from mailing lists, and automatic sorting of mail into different folder types, like travel or other categories. The app is available only for iOS devices.


Free for iOS and Android

24Me is a personal digital assistant that, much like EasilyDo, connects to different online accounts and manages your affairs. It is styled more like a standard to-do list app or calendar app, which may suit those who like to organize their days as a timeline.

The app is not quite as automated as EasilyDo, so you may have to work with it a little more throughout the day. Also, the interface is busier and fussier.

Google Now

Free for Android and via Google app on iOS


Don’t forget Google Now.

The app mainly sits in the background, but often surprises you with an alert that is really useful — for example, a warning of traffic on the way to your next meeting.

Google Now can also help find nearby attractions and manage restaurant reservations, and you can speak to it in natural language to do searches. You do have to deliberately interact with Google Now to make the most of it; on iOS this involves the extra step of starting up the Google app.


Free for iOS

One of the best-known intelligent apps is Apple’s Siri, which I have found is becoming cleverer all the time.

I use Siri daily to begin phone calls, send text messages, and set timers, reminders, and alarms. The app can now answer sophisticated questions about science, or help with navigation. Now that Siri is instantly accessible on the latest iPhones by speaking “Hey Siri,” it is even more useful.

Kit Eaton writes on technology for The New York Times.