“Auntie – what’s the weather going to be like today?” This is not some reference to Mary Poppins or Paddington but rather to the fact that the BBC is reportedly working on a voice assistant rival to Alexa and Siri. It is being dubbed “Auntie” internally but will probably not be the official name it launches under. (For those outside of the UK or those under the age of about 30 in the UK, “Auntie” is short for “Auntie Beeb”, a mocking-slash-affectionate sobriquet for the broadcaster commonly attributed to DJ Kenny Everett in the 1970s.) “It would be your trusted guide to information, education and entertainment,” says an unnamed source on the plans. “That’s what these assistants are becoming – Siri or Alexa or Google.”
With the iPlayer and the BBC Sounds app, it absolutely makes sense for the BBC to move into this area – but the challenge would be having it as an option in smart speakers and mobile devices when the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google will want to prioritise their own voice assistants. So could the BBC move into making its own smart speakers? If it does, maybe it could take design cues from the BBC Micro.