As per earlier rumors, Microsoft has officially unveiled Cortana, Windows Phone 8.1’s personal assistant. During the presentation, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore stressed that Cortana will be launched as beta, which we can’t help but feel is a jab at Apple’s Siri which did not exactly perform as advertised and was later revealed to be in beta mode.
That being said, if there are two key points which we can take away from Microsoft’s Cortana presentation, it would be that Microsoft wants Cortana to be a personal assistant to the user like you might expect from an actual human being, and that at the end of the day the user will still have control over what Cortana knows and learns about them, which could appease those who might be worried about privacy.
Cortana will come with standard features we have come to expect from voice assistant apps, such as setting reminders, performing search functions, recommending restaurants, and so on. However like we said earlier, Microsoft has emphasized on how Cortana will have more human-like features rather than act as an AI and will do things that a human personal assistant would.
For example if given permission, it will be able to scan the emails stored on your phone and see if there are any emails that Cortana might be able to help with. If it sees that you have recently booked an air ticket, it will be able to remind you about your upcoming flight without you having to set the reminder manually. We’re sure this is something some users might feel a little iffy about as it does seem a bit intrusive, but the feature is there is you want to use it.
There are also “people reminders” that allows you to add a note about someone. For example if your colleague/boss/friend had a baby, you can tell Cortana to remind you to ask about their newborn baby the next time you talk to them, so whenever you are messaging that person or talking to them on the phone, Cortana will remind you about it.
Cortana, just like a real personal assistant, will also keep a “notebook” about things it has learnt about you so far. This is completely editable meaning that if there are some aspects you’d rather Cortana not know or are wrong, you will be able to edit them which is an advantage we feel Cortana has over other voice assistant functions.
There will also be tie-ins with third-party apps. What this means is that users will be able to use Cortana to launch apps followed by a set of instructions. During the presentation, Belfiore gave some examples, such as asking Cortana to launch Skype and call a particular contact. All of this was done in a single command which saves the person from having to launch Skype, look for the contact, and then call them. Other third-party app tie-ins include Facebook and Hulu, just to name some of them.
As it stands Cortana sounds very promising despite one or two hiccups during the presentation, which Microsoft has attributed to it being in beta, but hopefully as Microsoft starts ironing out the kinks, we definitely see how Cortana has the ability to become a voice assistant feature that could give Siri and Google Now a run for their money.