There’s an app for everything these days, and quite rightfully so. Developers have realized that there is vast potential in the app ecosystem. For every basic need, there will be a ton of apps that will promise to get things done the way you like it. And in the midst of all the wannabes, there will be but a few who seek to rise above the crowd, trying to get their differentiating factor to give them the edge.
Niki is amongst those within said set, looking to find its place amongst the vast plethora of apps that already do the task. Developed by XDA Senior Member aravindsagar and his team, Niki is an e-commerce facilitator for India, allowing users to do various tasks like recharge their prepaid phones or DTH service, pay bills for their postpaid SIMs and even book a cab. For this, the app faces very stiff competition from well established players like Paytm and FreeCharge. And to be perfectly honest, the app struggles to give them a fight in its core task.
What makes Niki stand out is not what it does. It’s how it does it.
Niki claims to be an Artificial-Intelligence-powered chat bot. It aims to provide an extremely intuitive communication interface for the average user who would prefer getting his job done in the simplest of manners. Niki not only lets you make end-to-end bookings via a single app, it also gives you recommendations along the way
Niki is not the only app that employs a Chat based model for personal assistant services. Apps like Lookup and Helpchat exist for providing the same sort of functionality. These usually employ a hybrid model, combining automation with actual humans on the backend to deal with the requests. Niki, on the other hand, claims to be automated and based on artificial intelligence. This means that not only can the software understand the users requests, it can also learn more about the user based on past transaction patterns.
Other features of the app include:
- Suitable for 2G connections, due to primarily being text based interactions
- Lightweight, at about 4.7 MB
- Automatically remembers user preferences
During my testing of the app, I first encountered an error on validating my invite code, which is curious because the app does not need invites right now. The developer was quick enough to look into the issues and fix them on the backend, so second go was a success. On the main screen, we are presented with an overlay quick tutorial explaining the basic layout and controls of the app.
Once you get the gist of the app, you just have to chat your way through. There’s really nothing more to explain — it is that intuitive. Conceptually, atleast. Practically, the app does have a lot of scope of improvement to stand true on its claim of “Artificial Intelligence”. But still, to achieve feats of natural language processing in a real time format, all the while minimizing data overheads and still processing the task at hand is definitely something to be proud about.
The AI struggled a bit with the recommendations, as it could not select the “best” from the given options at hand, to present to the user.
There were also moments when it failed to recognize the request. Considering the early age of the app and the complex difficulties that are involved in developing AI, I personally took care to restrict my questions to within what I have come to expect from other e-commerce facilitators.
Completing a transaction gives you an option to either use your existing Paytm wallet (thanks to the app’s integration with Paytm for mobile recharge payments, and with Ola and Uber for cab bookings), or use Online Payment as an option.
Often, the conversation just flowed naturally, highlighting the USP of the app.
For “science”, I tried being smooth with Niki. Turns out, she’s not interested in anything other than recharging my phone and paying my bills
All in all, Niki was an interesting experience. The app may seem underwhelming in its current form once you get past the AI novelty. However, the potential for its future is quite immense, especially when you add in things like expanded business horizons via full fledged e-commerce partnerships and integrations, along with voice-based interactions. Leveraging intuitiveness to give rise to a personal assistant that combines the reliability of services like Google Now and Siri and the ability to undertake transactions on its own is THE dream. And who knows, maybe one day, we will have artificially sentient beings that we carry around in our pockets, doing our chores and… other sci-fi things.