TouchPal’s Talia A.I. assistant improves your smartphone keyboard experience

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Injecting artificial intelligence into existing products and services is every company’s mantra in 2018. Jialiang Wang, CEO of the company behind the popular TouchPal keyboard, thinks Google and Apple will embed their respective voice assistants — Google Assistant and Siri — into the default keyboards on Android and iOS. But TouchPal wants to stay ahead of the game, which is why it’s launching the “first A.I. keyboard,” featuring a smart assistant called Talia.

TouchPal is a third-party keyboard you can install from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. It has been around for quite some time, with many of the same features and customization options available on competitor keyboards. It’s preinstalled on numerous Android devices thanks to manufacturer partnerships (such as HTC) and the company said it has more than 100 million daily active users around the world.

Talia was announced at Mobile World Congress 2018, but we’ve been testing a beta version of this keyboard to see how much of a difference an A.I. assistant can make.

Requiring permissions

The first thing you’ll want to know is that Talia requires quite a number of permissions so you can use it to its highest potential. Aside from access to your contacts and phone numbers (to accurately name your contacts), you’ll have to go into your phone’s accessibility settings to enable enhanced features like intelligent prediction, smart reply — which can suggest emoji and text — and more. You can deny it access to some of these permissions, but then you won’t get the full Talia experience.

The company said it never collects personal information, and these permissions you allow helps to “improve the input experience.”

Smarter keyboard

The TouchPal AI Keyboard already has features you’d expect like themes, sticker packs, GIF search, gesture typing, support for multiple languages, voice input, a clipboard, and more. The biggest improvements artificial intelligence introduces are the A.I. Engine and Talia.

TouchPal claims the A.I. Engine offers a “higher prediction accuracy of 99.4 percent,” which in turn should improve typing speed. This can be seen in the bar above the letters. So if you type, “You’re my favorite,” the keyboard suggests words like “person,” or “girl” (we intended to type the former). This prediction system does a fairly good job of finishing off your sentences accurately if you want to use it. We wouldn’t say it improved our typing speed much, though.

Talia is helpful

The most impactful improvements came from Talia. It’s the intelligent assistant that sits at the top right edge of the keyboard, with an icon that looks like a circle with two other circles inside it. Talia reminds us a lot of Google’s Gboard keyboard — where you can access the power of Google search (and machine learning) right within the keyboard. But Talia is a more personalized assistant that is prone to offering more suggestions.

It’s easy to see the benefits Talia provides.

There are two ways you can use Talia. You can use it to search for things within a conversation, so you don’t have to leave the app you’re currently in. For example, if someone mentions a trip tomorrow and you want to check the weather, tap the Talia icon and type “what’s the weather,” and you’ll be presented with a weather card. You can inject these weather details into your conversation if you want to share it with the person you’re messaging. Ask Talia a bunch of things and the assistant generally offers helpful results, and if it doesn’t have what your’e looking for, the results default to web searches.

You can ask Talia to convert currency, convert text to GIFs, paste a phone number in to access a dialer, find nearby places and restaurants, use it as a calculator, and more. These are all genuinely helpful tasks, and Talia makes sure you don’t need to leave the conversation.

What’s even more helpful is when Talia automatically offers a suggestion. If you mention you’re hungry, or you specify a particular type of food you’re craving, a little pop out bubble will emerge from the Talia icon, asking you to “find restaurants nearby.” Tap on this and you can swipe through a list of recommendations. If someone mentioned Italian food specifically, then Talia will tailor the results to find Italian restaurants.

These suggestions also extend to copy and paste. If Talia detects you just copied text in another app, it suggests pasting it in your message conversation in case that’s what you were meaning to do. Sometimes we didn’t, but we never found these suggestions to be obtrusive.  Kind of like Google’s Smart Replies, Talia can also offer up suggested phrases you can use when someone asks you something. We haven’t seen these working in action, but it’s a beta and it will be a feature in the final product.

It’s easy to see the benefits Talia provides, and we can see the assistant becoming even more useful when TouchPal adds more features over time. It’s not life-changing, but it’s undeniably time-saving. It’s also a glimpse of what we can expect to see if Google or Apple ever decides to add their respective assistants into their keyboards.

TouchPal said it’s launching Talia and the AI Engine for its keyboard likely by the end of March. It will be available as an update to the TouchPal keyboard on the Google Play Store. Talia is currently not available for iOS.

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