When it rains, it literally pours. That is the sort of thing that is true for digital voice assistants. What had began as an interesting experiment with Siri on an iPhone 4s has become one of the most important differentiating features in the personal electronics space. With Windows Phone announcing Cortana, their version of Digital assistance as well as Android making huge improvements to Google Now, BlackBerry OS was the only one lagging without a voice assistance of sorts.
No more though, BlackBerry has announced what they are calling as, ‘BlackBerry Assistant’ with the BB OS 10.3 update. The voice assistant will be first seen with the highly anticipated for mostly the wrong reasons, the BlackBerry Passport. The oddly square shaped device will go on sale towards the end of the year. Just like every other voice assistant, the BlackBerry variant can also read your E-mail change the notification settings based on your calendar appointments,s end messages, inform about temperatures etc. BlackBerry wrote the following on their blogpost announcing the arrival of the assistant and outlining some of its features:
I don’t have a personal assistant… yet. But, I imagine that I would interact with him or her in a number of different ways: typing, speaking…however I would ask them to help, they would help. BlackBerry Assistant can accommodate me the same way. It is voice activated when I need it to be, and helps manage simple tasks on my device from searching my email and calendar, finding out what’s trending on Twitter, to sending trivia night invitations. The more I use it, the more it learns and adapts to me. The more I speak with it, the more tuned-in to my queries it gets. If you’ve had experience with other smartphone-based personal assistants, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how accurate BlackBerry Assistant is at recognizing your requests.
I spend a lot of time behind the wheel and am often switching between multiple vehicles. Having an app that’s designed to be compatible with any Bluetooth device is key for vehicle safety. Just this week, I used it to remind me about a car appointment, a vet appointment and my anniversary. Then, it helped me send an ever-so-romantic BBM note from the car on my way home (all hands-free, of course). It was also my go-to when I needed to find the lyrics to “Soft Kitty”.
All pretty impressive feats of maintaining productivity… and they were all hands free. It’s when I’ve got keyboard under finger that I find it truly helpful. I just have to type what I’m thinking, whether it’s to tweet “The #BlackBerry #Passport Re-Invents the Mobile Keyboard.
Most impressive, for me, is that when I’m interacting with BlackBerry Assistant, it completes most of the actions without leaving the app.
If I’m driving and I ask it to read my latest email message to me, it does so. I can then ask it to “Mark Unread” without having to enter the BlackBerry Hub. If I’m in a meeting and I type “Remind me to follow up with Matt about our whiteboard session,” it builds me a reminder note that I can save without leaving the Assistant.
Assistant two up
This past week, we experienced some severe weather here in Waterloo. We briefly lost power and I needed to find my way around the house in the dark. I asked the BlackBerry Assistant to “Turn on the flashlight”. The flashlight app turned on (as expected) and on the screen, within the app, a switch to turn it off appeared. I opted to go the voice route, though, and when I was done said, “Turn off the flashlight”.
Another quick example goes back to that whiteboard session with Matt. I don’t like to be interrupted during meetings, but was expecting an important phone call. My assistant stepped in to help out. I said “Phone calls only, please” and it changed my notification settings accordingly.
Like a real-life personal assistant, the BlackBerry Assistant is in lockstep with what I need to do on my Passport, without being distracting or costly (resource-wise). I’m told there are a number of fun Easter eggs built-in as well, which I can’t wait to stumble across.