Keeping one’s digital calendars and address books up to date is no small feat, and, at least until you settle into a nice routine for saving events and filling out virtual contact cards, the process can often end up sapping more time than it saves. Even if you do keep things current, it’s unlikely that your calendar entry for a given appointment has anything more than the time, date, and a brief description of the event–no contact info for the parties involved, no link back to the relevant email thread in your inbox. Important people have personal assistants to take care of this sort of stuff. For the rest of us–or at least iPhone owners–there’s Cue.
In its current incarnation, the free app for the iPhone is sort of a streamlined super calendar–you link it to your email inbox, your Google or iPhone calendar, your Facebook account, and more, and it creates a tidy little snapshot of your day, giving visual preference to “what’s next”–that is, your next scheduled activity. But some clever algorithms do a little of that personal assistant legwork, supplementing calendar events with phone numbers and addresses, plucked from relevant email exchanges. The app also creates its own intelligent contact list, drawing data from your own address book and filling it in with bits and pieces it gleans from email threads.
For someone who keeps a robust calendar, the current version of Cue will likely be a breath of fresh air (and don’t worry, if you can’t cope without a monthly view, one is planned for a future update). For someone who doesn’t keep a digital calendar (like me) it’s not terribly useful. There’s currently no way to create new events in the app, so the only things it showed me when I fired it up were those annoying Facebook invites for parties in cities I no longer live in.
But the app Cue is hoping to become much more tantalizing, especially to a non-calendar keeper like myself. Basically, the team behind Cue wants to reach a point where “you don’t even have to manage your calendar, it just gets managed for you.” That’s how Daniel Gross, Cue’s co-founder, explained the ambition to me. “Over the course of the next few years,” Gross said, “the average person’s going to have a probably exponentially increasing rate of information directed at them in their everyday life, and it’s going to continue to get worse and worse and worse because the cost of creating information makes it easier and easier and easier.”
That means more email contacts, more appointments, and, yes, more irrelevant Facebook event invites. Eventually, Gross wants Cue to be able to sort that mess out for you. The app can already parse a certain subset of emails–Ticketmaster events, OpenTable reservations, shipping notifications and a few other standard confirmations–and add them to your Cue calendar. But the goal is an algorithm that can understand natural language and convert casually made plans into clear-cut calendar events. So, if I write to a friend, “let’s grab lunch Friday at 5,” Cue, in a future update, will not only make an entry for Friday at 5 p.m. on my calendar, but serve up my friend’s email and phone number with a tap, too.
But this type of intelligent calendar keeping, as Gross sees it, is only one way in which smartphones might be able to take a more proactive–and more genuinely helpful–role in our lives.
“Today’s phones are fairly passive,” he explained, “you’ll come to your iPhone, you’ll unlock it … and the paradigm is that there’s a list of things you can fire up and you just pick which one you want. And I think we might look back on that 20 years from now and realize it’s incredibly dumb, compared to a reality where the phone automatically says, ‘here’s probably what you want, and here’s probably what you want to do after that.'”
Cue’s tagline, “Know What’s Next,” speaks to that vision, a future where your smartphone doesn’t just have a repository of appointments you can look at but is constantly reminding you what’s next on your plate. That might sound a little bit stressful, but it’s definitely better than not knowing what’s next–especially if the app can manage to figure out what you’ve got planned entirely on its own.