What’s the tiny little scroller on the top of iris.?
I am writing this blog post just after pushing the latest update to iris. (v3.1). If you have downloaded it already, you should have already found something new in it. A tiny little white bar on the top, with text scrolling on it. It is the new ticker in iris.
Ticker is where we want to share with you some interesting news, feeds and other topics which you may find worth reading. Right now, we show there top trendsfrom the internet, something similar to the trending topics in twitter, but the only difference being it is the trending topics from the whole internet and not just twitter. This awesome information is aggregated by topsy. We want to push more and more interesting and relevant news to you there in the ticker bar. We are always open to suggestions.
Why are we showing ads on ticker?
Let me first give you some stats. Iris. is serving between half a million to a million answers every day. This involves handling large amounts of data, maintaining the servers, and the related running costs. We also have to pay many of our partners for every answer they provide. All this amounts to over tens of thousands of dollars every month. Having said that I am really proud and grateful every user who has downloaded iris. We really owe it you, the users; for whatever success we’ve achieved. That is why we want to keep iris. as clean and uninstrusive as possible. We spent many weeks thinking on how to get iris pay our bills without degrading its quality or making it a paid application. Keeping all this in mind, we have built the ticker/adbar on the top which takes less than 30 pixels of the screen area. At the same time, rather than making it just an ad bar, we’re also trying to make ticker a place where we could roll very relevant news, information, and top trends which could be of interest you.
I really hope you would support us going forward; we would never want to charge you for using iris. We want to keep iris. free always and make it richer with more features with each update. Thanks a lot for all your support and great reviews.
X’Mas. A time for gifts. And new features.
It nothing just than a phenomenal ride, that Dexetra’s had in the last few months. Yesterday we just crossed 1 million users for iris. The feeling was just inexplicable, as users you just gave us the best Christmas gift we could have ever thought of. Thanks for that.
Now, its our turn. After weeks of planning and designing we are presenting you with our new update for iris. Now iris includes real world rewards powered by kiip. What are real rewards? You can claim the rewards for yourself from the application, or you can even gift the reward to your dear ones. We give you rewards each feature you use/unlock. For example, for the first call you make with iris, first restaurant you find with iris, or when you use iris more. There are lot os surprise gifts to unlock. More you use iris, the more gifts you will see. Right now gifts only work for US users. Being in India, I myself know how sad this is for non-US users. But we’re working hard to get simil
ar gifts for people outside US as well. Please give us some more time.
Apart from rewards, we have also added duckduckgo to the list of answer providers. DDG is arguably one of the best search engines around. It aggregates result from popular engines like Google, Bing etc, but also gives you zero click answers for searches. You can also play music from iris. We are trying hard to give you more and more services directly from iris. Our goal with iris is to integrate as many services into iris so that you have just a question away from any informati
on you want. Next in our agenda to add services to book tickets, flight, taxis, movies, restaurants etc through iris. Better voice recognition and support for different languages are the next one.
Hope you enjoy using iris. We will keep improving iris, in return we just need your love. Hope you all are having a great time this holidays. Wishing you all the best on my personal behalf and behalf of the whole dexetra team.
Download the latest version here.
Where are we heading?
When the news about iris. was broken by techcrunch, we were blank. We didn’t expect such a huge cheer from the crowd and hardly could think properly. It was crazy. Like when you’re expecting for a child and twins are born, we were actually working hard on Friday, but iris was born. It was of course a pleasant surprise. But, since it was not planned we jittered a little on iris, going forward.
I am proud that we showed everyone that it is possible to do something like Siri in a short time, and inspired half a dozen other personal assistants that came later to Android market. It is fun to have competition, as we could learn from each other, it only pushes innovation forward. Hopefully, we could push the bar higher with each update.
Right now we are serving close to a million users and around half million answers daily. We are pushing an update later this weekend and iris would able to show you videos, recipes, news, song lyrics, movie reviews, stock quotes all from inside the app.
Another bottle neck we have is support for foreign languages and better support for various accent. The latter issue is something that we have least control on. We are dependant on Google’s Speech to Voice engine to transcribe voice, but supporting foreign languages is something we are trying to work upon.
In the meanwhile please talk to us and let us know how we could improve iris, better and bigger things are being planned and hope we could bring smiles to more and more faces.
All along, we are inching closer to a release as far as friday is concerned. Iris has rekindled the interest in friday and we are happy for that. Let me tell you that friday is so much more fun and interesting to play with!! But I will talk about that in another post.
Dexetra closes a round of funding with One97
I have great news to share with you today. One97, a pioneer in the Mobile Internet Services in India has invested in Dexetra through the one97MobilityFund. And this was not a knee-jerk investment that happened because of the success of Iris, but something that happened well before we launched iris.
This is how Vijay sums it up in the One97 Blog,
Very rare times you meet a person whom you connect in first 10 minutes and decide to invest in first hour of conversation. Exactly that’s what happened when I met Narayan of Dexetra.
In actuality, I only carried the confidence bestowed upon me by my small yet extremely capable team. We have remained focused and adamant all this time and it has come to fruition at last. Obviously I am really proud to be associated with such a team and now with One97.
We see this investment as a nitroboost to our existing efforts so that we can scale and accelerate the development of iris and Friday. It also brings us more opportunities and possiblities to find and connect to the world of Mobility better with the help of One97’s reach and presence.
I would also like to take this opportunity to share some statistics with you. It is almost a month since we launched iris to Android market (18th Oct 2011). In this period we have made half a dozen of minor and major updates (including iris2.0).
- Iris has now around 0.8Million downloads from Android Market .
- Iris serves around half a million answers daily.
- We have served altogether over 10 million answers in the last 30 days.
- We have been in the top new free, trending (#2).
- We are adding around 50k users daily.
And last, I would like to thank all of our users who have cheered for us, supported us and motivated us to go this far. We will keep up the spirit in the coming days. Hopefully with your help iris would hit a million downloads by this weekend. Friday launch is also nearing the corner and we hope you receive it with the same enthusiasm and love.
[Full press release]
A week before iris2
What is iris2.0
After the “8 hour version” of Iris hit the market, we got a lot of unprecedented feedback and support from the community and so we started working on a much more serious and powerful iris. Actually the original iris, recognized the question, understood it and pulled relevant information from the web (from various points) all from the phone. Though it might sound impressive it was far from perfect. Phones cannot do any reasonable Natural Language Processing, also fetching information from different websites meant lot of data traffic. So we wanted to create an iris server which would take up the question from phone, churn it, and spit out the answer back to the phone. The actual phone app has very little left to do, it had to format the response and present it. All the intelligence now goes to our server, which is in Amazon Cloud. With 2 weeks effort we created a better (and scalable) framework for iris, with the cloud having an important role.
The failed launch
Last monday, we had published the cloud based iris2.0 to Android Market, with a modest Amazon instance powering the API and serving answers. I published the app at around 2:00 am, but by 7:30 am, when I woke up, to my shock, the server had wounded up. We were serving around half a million answers a day, and our modest Instance could not hold on for even 6 hours. To make matters worse, since our Dexetra office was getting relocated, our workforce was cut down to half. It was really tough.
The real 2.0
For the last one week, we have been trying to optimize the API code and the server instance type, so that we can serve as many requests we get without causing any delay. We have also made a lot of improvements to iris’s capabilities since now we have a lot of horse power. After days of rigorous load testing and optimization we have published iris2.1 at last. It is capable to serving millions of requests daily without even slowing down. So, the new iris (v2.12a as of now) is much different from 1.0 though it may look similar. The whole architecture gets an overhaul, we can also push updates to you much much faster.
The major visible change you might have noticed in 2.0 is location awareness. She can now find you restaurants, coffee shops, ATMs, police stations and what not. We are getting back our focus to adding new features since our framework is in place. So get ready to find new capabilites of iris every week. We are so excited to read those positive comments from you, we will make sure we get that from you by giving you interesting updates.
Iris roadmap, and features in the making.
Even as we are closing in on half million iris. users, it is still in a very infant state. We have to add a lot of features to iris to make it an app that you would use daily. We have had GUI (Graphics User Interface), touch screen input but now I want to give you a Voice User Interface (VUI). A interface which could be used only with your voice commands.
To accomplish this we need a very strong Voice(UI) framework, which is what we have been doing for the past few days. With each of the small incremental updates we have been strengthening our framework, but the big update will (hopefully) come sometime next week which would push most of the processing to our servers so that we can seamlessly add features without having to push updates to the client.
Once we have the framework in place, we will adding Voice Actions in a very brisk pace. We hope to cover all the suggestions you have put forth, right from ability to add calendar appointments to play music. And to make it as intuitive as possible, so that you don’t need a manual or walkthrough to find what commands work.
Multiple Language support
The most sought out feature is support for multiple languages. To be frank we have kept this for the future. Once we have accomplished the above mentioned features, we will dedicate a lot more time for translation, we also need your support for this.
Enhancing the engines
We have been trying to reach out to people like Wolfram Alpha so that we can improve iris’s intelligence. These APIs come at a premium and hence we have to have a licensing agreement with them before we could start using them. If you want to suggest some API providers similar to WolframAlpha, let us know. We will explore the possibilities. We are really grateful to trueknowledge for providing us with awesome support during the initial days of heavy traffic. We are also using a custom Pandorabot to answer your question and engage in conversations.
In closing, I would love to hear from you. If you have any suggestions on any of the above mentioned features, just write to us, via mail, twitter or facebook.
(Updated) Iris well on its way to deliver
Update: If you can’t find Voice Search app from Android Market, install it directly from here.
Thank you for making Iris the toast of the Android World. Frankly, its been a helluva ride ! We do understand what you desire and make no mistake, we are striving to get ya’all what you wish. All I could say is “Watch out for the upcoming updates”.
Getting to the point, a lot of users had got back to us saying that the iris is not working on their phones. Iris requires the Voice search App and TTS (Text to Speech) Library installed on your device. Though, most of the phones do have these pre-installed and if its not, install :). As for the guys who’ve flashed their ROMs, you might wanna install it too.
Speech to text (voice recognition):
For android 2.2 above, click here
For android 2.1, click here
TTS(Text to Speech):
For Android 1.5-2.1, click here
iris (improved) goes live on Android market.
Has been a big day for us. We just got techcrunched, and was amazed to see the overwhelming support from the Android community. Only problem was that, the apk link provided there was pretty old. But we are not complaining, people still liked it.
So we have updated an improved version to Android market. The Updates includes
Conversation: You can keep talking about any topic (or just small talk). Even ask her how she is feeling today, whether she likes something etc. You can also try those Siri like wacky questions and Iris will give you sarcastic answers.
Images, links: Now whenever possible, we show images for questions as well as answers. These images are also clickable, which will open up the topic in browser and show you a detailed article.
Better intelligence: We have added a few more fact engines to the mix. Now iris has an enhanced knowledge base. So expect more questions to be answered.
Faster: Like everybody was complaining on the last release, iris took some time to get answers (often). Now, this does not happen anymore, it will give you a response in less than 8 secs (worst case).
The techcrunch article just caught on like wildfire and lot of other blogs rehashed it, (as well as the download link, unfortunately). So, help us spread the word that the vastly updated version is available in Android market.
Cheers and lots of thanks for all of you who supported us. We’ve got a lot of really encouraging feedback emails, tweets and messages. We will add Voice actions soon, and make Iris more comprehensive.
(Update) A day when Siri inspired us to create Iris for Android.
It started out as a lazy Friday with half our team missing, the influx of tweets and posts on the “Awesome Siri” were flying everywhere. Suddenly, I got the urge to do something similar for Android. Since 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. We were still in the fun mode, but when we started using it the results were actually good, really good.
Quickly, I created a decent layout and design, and we added all shiny little things to iris, and what came out was a really good app (for an 8 hours effort that is). When we posted the first screenshot, we got a nice feedback from people around, and that is when we realized that this is something people are going to be excited about.
We were not even planning to put this into Android market when we started, but if people are really liking it, we will brush it up, make it more interesting and make it a product that adds some real value to the users.
I will close it with yet another screenshot.
Update: We have published the official alpha on Android Market.
I really wanted to put up a video, but I couldn’t make one with the phones we had. All the good camera phones were off today as well with its owners. So maybe tomorrow.
How it feels to be a Dexter, a summer intern’s take.
Guest post by Sachin Siby, who did his summer internship at Dexetra.
Today, internships are all the rave. No-one wants an engineer with a 4.0 GPA and 0 work experience. You see students flocking to facebook or Google or Microsoft and these companies embrace the interns with open arms. Alternatively, according to a recent article on TechCrunch, these students are opting for start-up companies over the big guns. A smaller company almost always guarantees higher responsibility and this brings out the best in interns. In the city of Toronto the story is the same. Most of my friends ended up doing internships/research this summer. Over the summer I worked for 3 months at Dexetra , Kerala which was a long way away from Toronto. I guess my peers were a little surprised on why I’d opt to go far away from where I was studying to do an internship. I had my reasons and expectations. After spending 3 months at Dexetra, I can honestly say both of them were exceeded. In the summer of 2010, I was asked by my cousin to try out an iPhone app ‘TryCube’. Due to my fascination with Rubik’s cubes from a young age, this immediately caught my fancy. It had a very neat UI, really interesting concept and the app felt…fluid. I asked the name of the company and silently made a mental note. Dexetra. Fast forward to February 2011. Yes, the internship and summer job obsession had started in Toronto. Kids were desperate for anything. It was at this time that Dexetra’s flagship product ‘Friday’ had started getting popular. I checked it out and the name Dexetra caught my eye. Of course, I should email them asking for intern positions!
A couple of months later, it was my first day of work at Dexetra. I walked in and saw the CEO, Narayan Babu. He told me that I’d be working on the Android platform. This worked out great because I was an Android enthusiast and I had an Android smartphone too! I wondered where the rest of the team was. I was told that I’d be given my space to work, and I followed Narayan to a room. He opened the door and inside were the guys I was going to spend the next 3 months with, coding with panache. Before I learned their names, I knew their niche fields. Each one was a colorful character and there was every kind of tech enthusiast in there. There were the Android super developers, the iPhone and OpenGL guy, the BlackBerry experts, Windows Phone CodeNinja, the guy who used Dvorak configuration on a QWERTY keyboard, NLP/Machine learning guy, the marketing guy, pro open source, anti-open source. Yes, every possible flavor. Android101:
‘Code with brain. Design with heart’- Narayan Babu
My first day consisted of getting familiar with the Android framework. The CEO explained some fundamentals of the Android architecture, how code written was going to run on the system. He was quite passionate about me understanding the bigger picture, before I wrote a single line of code. (That interested me because personally my biggest gripe with the formal engineering education system is the fact that most of engineering ends up being a math problem. Not much emphasis is given on design and the big picture. ) The app that I was given to work on was chosen to give me a taste of everything – from working with external APIs, to come up with battery efficient algorithms and to give me an intro to databases, client/server architecture and much more. Basically touch on many core computer science topics. Initially I worked under the tutelage of Eby Chembola, who I like to call my ‘Android mentor’.
Dream EXEcute Test Refine Activate- SDLC at Dexetra:
Soon, I was given a broad picture of the app I was going to work on. My first assignment was to come up with ideas on how to improve the app and to create a coarse design. I was a little taken aback. Being an intern, I had a say in the creative direction of this app? Wow. The first step in the Dexetra SDLC was to ‘Dream ‘. I didn’t know it was applicable to interns as well. I wasn’t complaining.
‘One code review beats a hundred debug sessions’- Narayan Babu
Over the course of the next 3 months, I learned a lot. I mention exceeded expectations. Yes, I expected to learn about Android and the Java programming language. Juxtaposition of code written by the same person (me) in May and August reveals some major changes in coding style and technique. Dexetra imposed quite some importance on following consistent coding standards and naming conventions. Strict adherence to agile development and other extreme programming practices was enforced. Code review with the senior developers (who were brutal at times!) definitely fostered some good styles. It was less about ‘make this work’ but more about ‘make this work in the best possible way’. Ahh yes, I had not just become a better programmer but a way better software engineer. This is exactly what I came for.
The weird part of my internship was that this increase in software skills wasn’t the best thing I learned from my experience even though it was what I essentially came for. I came to be a better coder and left with so much more.
No-one can put it better than Dexetra co-founder and director, Aibin Varghese.
‘Life is short. You can get a comfortable job working at a famous MNC. Walk in to work at 9, code for a few hours, leave at 5. You get a stable income and your life is secure. Soon enough you get married to someone who has a similar job and both of you live the safe life. On the other hand, you can form your own company. Get faced with challenges every day. Work with cutting edge technology on a daily basis and keep up with the fast paced industry. For me, that’s life. That’s what I always wanted to do. You can learn to code anywhere. At Dexetra, I hope you learned how to run a company’- Aibin Varghese
When I watch ‘The Social Network’, I prefer the first half where Zuckerburg started working on ‘The Facebook’ before it became big. I like watching the parts of ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’ before Apple Microsoft became household names; watching Woz and Jobs playing with circuit boards. Dexetra is at the phase where they are playing with circuit boards. I feel happy to have been part of this passionate company at this moment, with greatness right around the corner. Yes, I travelled halfway around the world to work for these guys and it was extremely worth it. Few interns can boast of having complete creative control over their projects. Even fewer interns can boast about having lunch with the CEO, jamming with the director or going on motor bike rides for field testing.And don’t forget getting your code reviewed by the guys who have worked on the Android platform before the first Android phone(G1) was released. Yes, I learned a lot. And I’ll always be known as ‘Dexetra’s first intern’. Hope there are many more to come.
Sachin Siby (Computer Engineer Student, University of Toronto.)
You can follow Sachin on twitter, or catch him up at Facebook.