Yahoo Radar app wants you to chat with a virtual travel guide

Given its financial and corporate woes, you might think that Yahoo is done doing mobile app experiments that end up getting swept under the rug. Ever the contrarian, the former Internet giant has launched a new app, for now iOS only, with a bent towards helping users plan for their next big trip. Curiously called "Radar", the app is advertised to harness Yahoo's "expertise in search, communications and content" to help you pack the right things and visit the right sights, all in a style that would make you feel like talking to a chatbot.

Like any program that relies on some sort of machine learning to offer intelligent suggestions, Radar starts out with an empty slate that you have to feed with data. In this case, that data comes from your Yahoo! Mail's contents, especially those pertaining to trips. And because Yahoo now integrates with other e-mail services, that potentially means Radar can also crawl over your Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail, or AOL accounts.

In the beginning, Radar will function little more than a trip-oriented search engine. But as you refine your searches and use it more, it will be able to make smarter suggestions eventually. Radar's uniqueness comes from its conversational style interface, where it seems like you're asking it questions to refine its results. But instead of typing out the question, you simply choose from a list of pre-defined terms, themselves suggested via machine learning.

At the moment, Radar is pretty bare in terms of functionality. While it can draw input from other services, like TripAdvisor or Yelp, it can't output its data, which would be helpful in trying to book lodgings or flights. It is also limited to iOS and US users, with no word yet on any sort of future expansion.