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Evie brings instant search to Android

TechCrunch TechCrunch 15/06/2016 Sarah Perez

Most smartphone users download zero apps per month, and only tend to use around a half-dozen of their installed apps on a regular basis. Meanwhile, there are millions of native applications available today which offer a better experience than using the mobile web. The problem is finding these apps and easily accessing them at the right time. A new startup called Evie aims to solve this problem by introducing a new interface for Android that lets you search across all your apps – and more – from your smartphone’s homescreen.

Evie’s co-founder David Zhao has been interested in this problem for some time. Earlier, he co-founded a startup called Voxel which developed an app streaming technology that allowed apps to work more like websites. Companies used this service as a way to present trials or demos of apps to consumers. Voxel, however, focused on advertising – offering virtualized apps instead of banner ads or interstitials.

Then Google ended up acquiring a Voxel competitor, Agawi, and last year began to experiment with app streaming in its search results. 

Zhao says that with Voxel, the company had drifted away from its original mission which was to solve app overload. There are so many apps in the app stores, which are organized terribly, and mobile users don’t know how to surface the apps they need, he explains.

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“You can only fit so many apps on your homescreen,” says Zhao.”And users also only have the mental capacity to remember a couple of dozen things…everything else is really lost,” he adds.

Zhao and his team began working on Evie around eighteen months ago, with the goal of making it easier for people to find what they’re looking for on their phones.

With Evie, you don’t think about what app to launch, you think about what it is you need.

Available as an Android homescreen application from Google Play, Evie installs its own Android interface that places its search bar at the top of your homescreen. (You can also import the items you had previously installed on your prior homescreen.)

From this search bar, you can use Evie to find restaurants, stores, contacts, movies, music, shows, phone settings, and other items. And when its search results point you to an app you have installed, you can simply tap on that result to go directly to the appropropriate page in the app.

For example, if you’re looking for a restaurant to order lunch from, Evie might take you directly to the ordering page in the DoorDash app you have installed.

And when you don’t have the app, Evie will typically take you the mobile website instead.

What’s great about using Evie is that it also lets you compare your options. For instance, in the case of ordering food, it could allow you to compare delivery times and prices for the same restaurant across DoorDash, Seamless and GrubHub.

Or if you were looking for a movie to stream, it could show you where you could purchase a digital rental, or if the movie was available on services you use like Netflix or Prime Instant Video for free streaming instead.

The idea of connecting people to the content in apps more easily is something Google itself is working on, too. It recently announced “Instant Apps” – technology that lets you almost instantly launch an app you hadn’t yet downloaded to your device. It does this by breaking the app up into smaller parts that install and load more quickly.

While that seems like direct competition for Evie, Zhao says that Instant Apps could be integrated with his launcher in the future.

In addition, the difference between Evie and Google’s offering is that Evie is positioning itself as a new way to use your phone, not a search engine like Google.com. If anything, it’s more like an Android-based version of iOS’s “Spotlight Search” feature.

It’s also able to recognize the content inside of apps in order to present structured but simplified results. That is, it’s not just matching text between apps, it knows if you searched for a restaurant, movie, store, etc. and understands where and how that item is referenced across a variety of different apps.

Evie, which is co-founded by Tim Cheng, Russ d’Sa, and David Schwartz, is backed by $12.6 million in seed and Series A funding from investors including Pinnacle Ventures, Softbank Capital, First Round Capital, Ram Shriram, Sanjay Jha, Joyo Wijaya, and Dave Limp .

The app is a free download from Google Play.

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