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Tech Forecast

With Timeful Acquisition, Google Aims To Supercharge Its Apps' Time-Management Smarts

An inventive startup's AI-based scheduling features will come to Google Calendar and other apps.

[Calendar Photo: Jirsak via Shutterstock]

When time-management startup Timeful launched its iOS app last July, it faced a basic challenge. Its app uses artificial intelligence to help busy folks find the time to keep on top of important matters in their professional and personal lives. But no matter how effectively it did so, convincing people to dump the apps they already use to wrangle their schedules was a daunting prospect.

Timeful's iOS app

Starting today, that issue is going away. Google is announcing that it has acquired Timeful. Though the app will stay available and supported for the foreseeable future, its team will devote most of its future efforts to implementing Timeful-like features in Google's existing productivity apps and services.

Timeful, which attracted $6.8 million in funding from firms such as Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, announced itself to the world in March 2014. It was founded by serial entrepreneur Yoav Shoham (who sold an earlier short-lived startup, Katango, to Google in 2011), behavioral economist Dan Ariely, and data scientist Jacob Bank. Google isn’t disclosing how much it’s paying for Timeful or other details of the transaction, or whether the startup's entire team—its website lists 20 staffers—will join the company. Those that do will become part of the group which works on apps such as Gmail and Google Calendar, and will move from Timeful's Mountain View, Calif. office onto the nearby Google campus. Bank, Timeful's CEO, will become a Google product manager.

Timeful's approach to time management is based on behavioral science. And behavioral science, Bank explains, "tells us that it's much more effective to change the environment people work in directly than to introduce a new tool." Aside from any financial windfall, that opportunity made the prospect of bringing Timeful to teeming masses of Google users irresistible.

"We can evolve tools to become smarter in subtle ways," Bank says. "When you add up all these small changes over time, in five years they can have a big impact."

Finding Time

The deal is the second recent instance of a big company snapping up a startup to bolster its time-management technology: In February, Microsoft acquired Sunrise, the maker of a smart-calendar app for iOS and Android.

Though Timeful and Sunrise both bring fresh thinking to the challenges of time management—along with other apps such as Tempo, X.ai, and Wyth— Timeful's approach is unique. You can enter conventional schedule items if you want, but you can also simply tell it about ongoing projects or even habits such as going for a run three times a week—and then let it use artificial intelligence to identify appropriate days and blocks of time. Once you've added a task, it gently monitors your progress on an ongoing basis. And the more you use the app, the smarter it gets at managing your time in a way that fits your style.

Video demo of Timeful's current app

The most obvious use for this functionality is within Google Calendar, a pretty conventional scheduling app that might benefit enormously from judicious use of artificial intelligence. But "the great thing about Timeful’s technology is that it’s not just about the calendar," says Alex Gawley, Google's product director for Gmail and Inbox. He adds that Google wants to bring Timeful-inspired features to many products, including its email-reimagined app Inbox and even Google Docs.

When I asked Gawley about the time frame for such capabilities popping up in Google products, he began by reminding me that the startup’s employees were only just joining Google as we spoke. But it sounds like it might not be all that long. "We want to get started as quickly as possible," he says. "We’re expecting great things."

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