The big question: Are you tired of using Google Assistant to call up your favorite BBC podcasts? Now you can use the BBC's "public service" voice assistant instead. The question is, is it really necessary? Do consumers want independent specialized voice assistants for isolated services like the BBC network? We shall soon see.
The BBC announced last year that it was working on a voice assistant called "Beeb." On Wednesday, developers moved the software to the beta phase. The testing will be semi-open to the public. Windows Insiders in the UK can download Beeb from the Microsoft store for use on Windows 10 only.
Google and Amazon dominate the digital assistant market, and there does not seem to be a lot of room or need for a third competitor (or fourth, fifth, or sixth, depending on how you count). It is hard to see Beeb grabbing much attention unless it can offer something completely different or works in a closed ecosystem like Siri or Bixby.
The BBC seems to be toying with the latter idea. Back in August, it said that it was not looking to add a full range of features that users can currently see in full-fledged voice assistants like Alexa. Instead, the broadcaster is looking to provide voice functionality to its website and other voice-activated products.
In its press release, the BBC called Beeb "the first public service voice assistant." It has been working closely with Microsoft on infrastructure for the assistant using Azure AI. It remains to be seen how well this collaboration will pan out considering the Redmond company's own digital assistant Cortana struggles to find its niche.
Currently, the software is limited to activating things like BBC podcasts or on-demand radio and music playlists. It can also access local weather information and news and can even crack a joke if asked. The BBC has added a bit of personality to the assistant using trivia and material scraped from UK quiz shows and podcasts.
The company did not have a timeframe for how long the Windows Insider beta would last, saying only, "The next step will be bringing this beta version out to the general public in the near future."