At Your Service

02.12.13

Siri’s New Stepbrother Winston

Is Winston the robotic butler that our tech-addled society has been waiting for? No, writes Sam Schlinkert, it’s just an app that reads the day’s news to you in a British accent.

There’s an Internet joke that the worst thing you can do to someone is leave him or her a voicemail. Why have information spoken to you after an unnecessary preamble when you could read a text? Because of this, I didn’t have high hopes for Winston, a new app released today by Reactor Labs. Winston is basically a digital assistant that reads the day’s news to you in a charming British accent.

An easy comparison to make here is to Apple’s Siri product, an assistant introduced with the iPhone 4S in October of 2011. But while Siri in large part failed to be a truly interactive assistant—and once people got bored of asking it/her mildly inappropriate questions—Winston wisely does not promise as much.

Rather than rely on the user for a command (and interpret it correctly), Winston offers a simple selections of customizable “channels” like headlines, politics, and technology. Clicking on any of them launches an audio and visual briefing, where Winston simply reads the weather forecast and other news to you over some optional soothing background music.

Reactor Labs founder and CEO Aaron Ting told Pando Daily that the app takes “lean-forward content” and creates a “lean-back experience.” With its focus on audio, I could imagine playing the general briefing while brushing my teeth in the morning (as the app’s intro video suggests). 

You can also connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts, allowing Winston to summarize what you missed on your social networks. You can also add channels of specific publishers like The Guardian or NPR in addition to the more general news channels. Interestingly, Winston supports Apple AirPlay and AppleTV, meaning users could have Winston brief them through speakers rather than the iPhone’s speaker or headphones. Unfortunately at this point you can’t make Winston your alarm clock. 

While some aspects of Winston are compelling, it’s a far cry from the virtual butler we were promised in sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or even Iron Man. Until then I’ll be reading my news and leaving tooth-brushing time for quiet reflection.