Microsoft will soon make its voice-activated digital personal assistant Cortana available as a standalone app for Android and iOS devices, says the report. The report acknowledges non-specific comments made by Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft’s Chief Experience Officer, last November. When asked if Cortana would make available on other operating systems, she replied, “yeah.”
Cortana is currently exclusive to Windows Phone devices, but will come to Windows 10 for desktop this autumn, and over time arrive on mobile devices powered by Google and Apple. What’s more, ‘the company is also looking to include technology from one of its artificial intelligence research projects, dubbed Einstein. “This kind of technology, which can read and understand email, will play a central role in the next roll out of Cortana, which we are working on now for the fall time frame,” Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research and a member of the Einstein project, told Reuters. Cortana has already offered some basic digital assistant functionality on Windows Phones and Windows 10 – it can tell about weather, dictate messages and remind appointments – but it sounds like it will soon get some in-depth understanding of how one live and work.
Fundamentally, it looks like Microsoft is taking efforts to turn Cortana into a more humanized version of Google Now which is Google’s digital assistant that anticipates needs and surfaces information before its asked for. This feature is quite contradicting to Siri’s largely reactive nature, with Apple’s agent springing into action only in response to queries.
Cortana blends both approaches, but while the interactive and reactive elements do have value, it’s the proactive stuff-telling the user important or useful things without needing to be asked first – that truly makes the agent seem intelligent and stand apart.
From other recent behaviors of Microsoft, placing of Cortana in other platforms would make it more consistent. For instance, Microsoft’s touch-friendly version of Office for phones and tablets made its appearance on iOS, not Windows. Under CEO Satya Nadella, the goal has been to sell Microsoft’s software and services rather than to sell Windows.
But the long-term value of such a move is harder to divine. While having more users will give Cortana more data and as a result in more intelligent services, making Cortana cross-platform removes one more reason to buy into, or even care about it, the Windows ecosystem. With Office on other platforms, there is at least the justification that it will stimulate sales of Office 365 and hence bring in some money.
Cortana does not have the same sales capacity; while it can be used to perform plain Web queries, and these do include ads, this isn’t really the point of the service . Existing Bing apps for other platforms can already do dumb Web searches, as can Siri. It is hard to imagine if a Cortana app really going to trigger iOS and Android users to pay for Microsoft’s software and services. On the other hand, a good Cortana app for the iPhone would represent just one more reason not to buy a Windows Phone.