What's better than Siri or Google Maps? XOWi is

What's better than Siri or Google Maps? XOWi is

Summary: Have you ever asked Siri for a traffic report? Don't bother if you're driving. Have you ever had Google Maps tell you to, "Return to route"? Frustrating isn't it? XOWi is the little gadget that can take the pain away.


[Note: This is not a review. It is a product spotlight.]

Just let me say this up front: I've always wanted a Star Trek communicator. One that really works. I've found something that comes really close in a neat little gadget that its developers call XOWi (pronounced Zoey). I think it should be called Ka-ching! because it's a brilliant product and I wish I'd thought of it.

It's easy to beat up on Siri or Google Maps because of some very obvious shortcomings. For example, if you ask Siri for a traffice report, it gives you a map. That's not helpful if you're trying to find the best way around an unfamiliar city. That, and you can't look at it while you're in traffic. And Google Maps failed me too many times in short downtown Austin walks during my recent trip to SpiceWorld 2013

I kept hearing, "Return to route", when I got off track. Really? "Return to route", that's what I get? What if I can't return to route? I gave up on Google Maps and went back to Siri. It's no fun walking ten blocks to a destination and finding that the destination doesn't exist. Maddening is what it is. In three days of downtown Austin, I went on one errant walk per day. That's a high fail rate, if you ask me. I resorted to asking strangers for directions, which is always interesting.

Side Note: Have you ever noticed when you ask someone on the street or in a convenience store how to get somewhere, he or she either isn't from here or he or she just moved here and isn't familiar with street names? It's enough to make me rely on Siri but not enough to make me rely on Google Maps. I'd rather buy a sextant and navigate by the stars.

I now return you to my XOWi post, already in progress.

It's hard to believe one little electronic gadget can do all that it does. Here's a list of things that I know it can do:

  • Provide verbal traffic conditions
  • Give a weather report
  • Navigate TV channels
  • Quiz you on trivia
  • Read your Facebook messages
  • Tell you who your new Twitter followers are
  • Play your choice of music
  • Play your favorite podcasts
  • Locate restaurants for you
  • Make phone calls
  • Take notes
  • Tell jokes
  • Turn on/off lights
  • Keep track of your eBay transactions

If you don't believe it, watch this video with Ahmed Bouzid, as he demonstrates XOWi's traffic reporting capability:


Besides being a very cool product, what do you think the implications are for BYOD? As soon as I saw the demos for XOWi, I knew that this device was perfect for BYODers. Why? Because it can perform all those things via voice commands that you multitaskers do by hand or with multiple devices.

Just think about it. You can tell XOWi to make a phone call while you're typing an email or get a status on your social media campaign while you're on hold.

It's great while you're on the road, when you have your hands full, or when you need an extra pair of hands to do something. It's like a personal assistant that does what you want, when you want but never talks back or goes on vacation. I know I sound like an ad for XOWi but I'm seriously impressed with it. Although I've not actually held one in my very own hands, I've watched multiple demos, viewed all of the videos, and carried on multiple conversations with Mr. Bouzid about the XOWi. And I like it. I like it a lot. 

For BYOD, it provides hands-free, true voice-controlled work. For home or school, it's a companion that can do just about everything but open a soda and bring it to you. Maybe that's in the plans for XOWi 2.0. I can dream, can't I?

Did you see it read the medicine label? If you missed that, watch this video and keep an eye out at approximately 55 seconds in.

Enterprise? One to beam aboard.

As of this writing, there's no retail price given and I forgot to ask that, in my excitement, of Mr. Bouzid. My assumption is that the XOWi will have a comfortable consumer price point.

Take a look at the XOWi and let me know what you think. Use the comments section to tell me what you like or don't like about the device.

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated with XOWi, its parent company, its owners or developers. I just found the product to be very interesting for BYOD, home use, and senior citizens. This post is not sponsored or paid. I'm solely responsible for its content. -Ken Hess

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Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Software


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • Oh Sheesh

    Didn't you learn how to read a map in school? I've gone to 'new' cities hundreds of times in my career and all I ever had/needed, was a MAP. Sheesh, we've become a really stupid society.
    • Binar

      We have become the Binar. We cannot live without our intimate connection with master computer.

      Liam SWz
      • @darkmoonman

        You're saying that like it's a bad thing, right?
      • close but

        but we dont come in pairs!
  • @ccs9623

    Yeah, I really want to carry around one of those big folding paper maps with me while walking around in a strange city. Nothing screams "Rob me" like that now does it?
    • really? nothing screams rob me more...

      than some yuppie walking down the street, holding hin his hand the latest cellphone, wearing head(ear) phones, listening to music (crap) and totally oblivious to where he/she is. I have a map in my hand-and that screams rob me? OK, steal my map.
  • Nuts... intriguing

    I agree with the two preceding comments.

    Just because we can, do we want to?

    For maps, also try HERE maps on Nokia phones. Immediate recalculation of route when deviating from original, like proper satnav. Nearby points of interest etc. And it has faults of a satnav, like not always knowing the route as well as a 'local' or somebody reading a paper map...

    (So far I have used HERE maps in the UK and in Germany. They should work as well in North America.)

    Relying on voice recognition in the real world could be a dodgy thing...
  • Funding

    I hope they get funded. I just backed the project. I have been saying for months that this is exactly what I want vs. a Smart Watch. I would also like proximity alerts if the device gets too far away from my phone, Etc.
    Harry Hawk
  • Nuts... intriguing (2)

    As my post was preceded by others I should like to clarify I agree with the first two posts headed "Oh Sheesh" and "Binar", and now another headed "really? nothing screams rob me more... "

    BTW, the advice here in the UK is: "do not be ostentatious with your mobile". This is especially aimed at young people, who tend to get robbed of their mobile phones by 'ride-by' thieves.
  • This is a companion device, not a replacement.

    From what I can see in these videos, it doesn't eliminate the need for a smartphone. It is a Bluetooth accessory plus host software that runs on your smartphone. Everything it does uses your smartphone's connection to the Internet. So, it's one more device you have to carry around. The entire thing could have been implemented as a Bluetooth ear piece just as easily as a clip on device. In fact, I see no reason why this couldn't be implemented in software directly on your smartphone. The difference between Siri and this is that this reads your information out loud to you rather than just displaying it. That could be done on the speaker in your smartphone just as easily as the speaker in this little gadget. The only advantage I can see is that it moves the "Siri-like" button and microphone onto your clothing, for easier reach.
  • Return to Route?

    I've used Google Maps on many occasions and have never heard the "return to route" message. It always recalculates when I go off route (which I did last night during a trip to central London, UK). Microsoft Autoroute - which I previously used - used to just say "Off route" with no further help unless I recalculated a fresh route from my new location.
    One question about the XOWi (why does everyone these days go for silly names like Google, Yahoo, Wii - at least Apple's got naming sensible and consistent): How does it handle regional accents/languages?
    As for getting lost, I've found Google Maps to be sufficiently accurate that whenever I've used them while on foot I've never taken a wrong turn.
    I have 2 complaints about Google Maps:
    1) If I'm playing music while satnavving, the music doesn't get overridden for long enough for me to hear the complete instruction. It's say something like "In 200 feet at the roundabout take the" and then it cuts out and the music returns - very frustrating.
    2) The "at the turn" instructions are usually too late so if you don't remember the advanced warning you're up the creek without a paddle.
    • Silly Product Names

      IAAL. If you use common words, you have trouble getting or defending a trademark. "Chick Filet" is "generic" and un-defendable. "Chick-fil-A" is not. "Eat more Chicken" is generic. "eat mor chikin" is not.
  • price

    pledge 99 dollars and you get one
  • Er

    Er, could you, er, repeat, er, that, er, again
  • Quick! Back XOWi!

    There a lot of people out there who can benefit from XOWi. It is great for people who are visually impaired, great for people who have trouble using their hands, fingers, etc. It's great for seniors who have trouble with phones. If someone else just sets up the connection, they can do all kinds of things just be talking to XOWi. And drivers can now listen to traffic reports, for instance, rather than having to take their eyes off the road to check them.

    i can think of dozens of great applications, besides the ones that XOWi has already mentioned.

    These are top notch voice scientists that are developing this. Let's help get it out to the general public! By the way, they are working on voice recognition to turn it on, so it's completely hands free. Yes, I have a blue tooth ear piece. I constantly fumble and disconnect my phone calls, because the buttons are too small and difficult for me to access. I think the twenty-somethings would love this, but let me tell you that it is really great for the sixty-somethings!
    Sharon Toji