BlackBerry Assistant Takes ‘Natural Language’ to the Next Level

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You know about Siri and Google Now, and you may have heard about Microsoft’s recent beta launch of the Cortana intelligent personal assistant with Windows Phone 8.1.

But there’s an even newer, natural language UI-powered, virtual assistant on the scene, ready to respond to users’ voice commands for everything from reminders to directions to texting. BlackBerry has announced its plan to launch its own assistant feature this fall, available on the upcoming BlackBerry 10.3 operating system and the much-anticipated smart phone release, the BlackBerry Passport.

According to a post on the Inside BlackBerry blog, this new virtual assistant feature will boast capabilities currently unavailable in the market today, such as reading email messages and marking them unread, or turning on the flashlight function.

We’ll have to wait a few months to determine whether BlackBerry’s assistant offering will truly “walk the talk” next to its peers. But in the meantime, it’s interesting to consider BlackBerry’s naming approach.[more]

For context, let’s consider the existing players. Apple maintained the name Siri after the acquisition of Siri Inc. in 2010, while Microsoft named its new release after the artificial intelligence character in the Halo series. While quite different in origin and tone, both Siri and Cortana are personified to become characters in users’ experiences. And while both allow users to change the gender (and sometimes, the nationality) of the voice, both Siri and Cortana are positioned primarily as friendly, conversational, female characters.

By contrast, BlackBerry is taking a simpler, descriptive approach to naming its offering, dubbing it simply BlackBerry Assistant. The approach is most similar to Google Now, but takes a step even further towards industry standard language: whereas Google’s name talks about the “Why,” BlackBerry’s name stays focused on the “What.”

Why did BlackBerry adopt such a simple, understated approach? It could be to keep focus and attention on the BlackBerry Passport itself. It could be to create a closer link between the masterbrand and the offering, whereas an offering like Siri has more of its own identity. Bigger picture, it could be part of an effort to create an understated and sleek re-entrance into the market.

The BlackBerry Passport represents one of the company’s big plays to recapture smart phone market share (they currently own about 0.8 % of the market) and compete with leaders like Apple, Android and Microsoft not only on hardware devices, but the software that powers them.

Whatever the reason, BlackBerry has moved into a previously uncharted territory in virtual assistant naming. Consumers, meanwhile, must wait until the fall to learn about and experience the BlackBerry Assistant—and see how it stacks up.

—Darcy Newell is a New York-based verbal identity strategist whose virtual assistant needs a virtual assistant.

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