Today, at its annual Build developers conference in San Francisco Microsoft announced Windows Phone 8.1, which includes the company’s own personal digital assistant, Cortana. The personal assistant has been in development for several years and is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google Now.
The name of the personal digital assistant from Microsoft was inspired by the popular character from Halo, who served as an assistant to Master Chief. Cortana is being powered by Microsoft Bing, the company’s search engine, and has been designed to have a distinct personality.
The personal assistant is also designed to learn about users by asking questions and monitoring user activity. Microsoft is allowing users to interact with Cortana through both text and speech.
Cortana will be a core function of the Windows Phone 8.1 update and will replace the existing search function. Just like Siri, Cortana can schedule reminders but Microsoft has given her more functionality. For example, a user can assign a reminder to specific people and locations.
Microsoft has designed Cortana to have a more diverse personality, according to Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s operating system group. In an interview with the New York Times, he said:
“Siri is this anthropomorphized character, but Siri doesn’t know you personally.”
Another example of her personality is shown below:
“Who’s your daddy?” got this response: “Technically speaking, that’d be Bill Gates. No big deal.”
Much like Google Now, Cortana can keep track of what you are searching for and examine your email to figure out what you want to see before you ask for it. All of this can be done if a user gives the appropriate permissions in settings.
Once she’s learned a bit about you, Cortana’s home populates with information that is curated just for you. You’ll see things like flight information she’s found from your email confirmations, weather, the latest news, and even traffic information once she learns your commute routine, such as from work and home.
The digital assistant also lists upcoming appointments, reminders, weather information, and more, similar to what can be found in Apple’s own Notification Center in iOS.
Currently, Apple has not opened up Siri to developers, but Microsoft will be releasing a third-party SDK. Cortana will integrate with services like Facebook, Twitter, and Hulu allowing users to use their voice to post an update or launch their favourite TV show.
Cortana is currently in beta and will launch alongside Windows Phone 8.1 in late April or early May. At launch, Cortana will only be available in the U.S., with other countries to follow later.
Cortana will launch shortly here in the U.S. first as a “beta,” and then will launch in the US, the U.K. and China in the second half of 2014 with other countries to follow afterwards into 2015.
Microsoft is also making its Windows licence free for device manufacturers, which puts it on par with Google’s Android operating system.
Let us know in the comments below what your thoughts are on Microsoft’s personal digital assistant.