BlackBerry debuts Siri-like voice assistant

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The struggling smartphone maker unveiled the new digital helper following similar offerings from several competitors.


BlackBerry on Wednesday introduced a new digital assistant called — you guessed it — BlackBerry Assistant, as the smartphone maker looks to match some of the personal-assistant software already offered by its rivals.

BlackBerry, which has been struggling to hang onto customers in the tough smartphone market, is offering BlackBerry Assistant after Apple debuted its voice-assistant Siri in late 2011, followed byGoogle Now and Microsoft’s Cortana. With those other voice assistants already available, BlackBerry Assistant is unlikely to be that must-have feature for the Canada-based company’s phones.

Still, it could be a handy feature for the base of customers still loyal to BlackBerry. The new software can be voice-activated and helps users set reminders and search emails and calendar information, along with some other functions. They will appear in the BlackBerry 10.3 update to its operating system.

BlackBerry touts the digital assistant as efficient without being distracting. Visually it looks more like Microsoft’s Cortana than it does like Siri.

“Most impressive, for me, is that when I’m interacting with BlackBerry Assistant, it completes most of the actions without leaving the app,” BlackBerry social media representative Donny Halliwell said in the blog post Wednesday.

Investors, however, aren’t as enthusiastic. Shares are down nearly 9 percent, or $1, to $10.34, likely on the news that Apple and IBM are collaborating on business-specific apps for iOS.

The Canadian company has seen its market share shrink as its crop of next-generation BlackBerry 10 smartphones failed to get the attention of mainstream consumers, most of whom continue to gravitate to iPhones or Android smartphones.

As a result, BlackBerry has over the past several months shifted its gaze back to its core audience of business customers under new CEO John Chen. The company plans to launch a 4.5-inch square smartphone, the BlackBerry Passport, in September, with a focus on allowing its users to manage spreadsheets and handle other work-related needs.

The BlackBerry Assistant could help in that effort by keeping things organized and helping with productivity, particularly on the road, when a keyboard isn’t as useful.


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