Microsoft has announced Cortana, a voice assistant for Windows Phone 8.1. Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Google Now and Apple’s Siri allowing users to ask questions like “What’s the weather”, “Give me Directions to London” and “What are the latest headlines?”. Cortana has been in development for many years and is due to be released with Windows Phone 8.1 this May. If your a fan of popular gaming series Halo you will probably be aware Cortana is the name of an AI character in the popular game series voiced by actress Jen Taylor and this version is no different. It is powered by Bing, Microsofts search engine, and is designed to learn more about users by the questions they ask, their activities and speech.
Microsoft have apparently based Cortana on a real personal assistant, giving her a sort of digital notebook to work from. Users within the settings can adjust what Cortana can track and what she, it, can store like relationships with people, frequently visited places, appointment dates and more.
To develop Cortana, we talked to a number of real personal assistants. One technique these assistants spoke about was keeping track of the interests and preferences of their bosses in a notebook. We thought… what a great idea! So all the stuff Cortana curates for you is stored in Cortana’s Notebook. This information enables Cortana to be proactive and helpful throughout the day. For example, she’ll let me know if my upcoming flight back to Seattle is on time and, if I choose, will even pop-up to recommend what time I should leave for the airport based on traffic. Joe Belfiore, Microsoft 2014
Cortana runs at the core of Windows Phone 8.1 fully replacing the existing search function in the phone. Cortana is somewhat more powerful than her counterparts though, she has the ability to give a reminder based on people and locations. For example she can remind you to “Ask Paul about the theatre” when your next on the phone to paul, neat. Cortana can also list appointments, calendar entries, email and even make plane reservations.
One major step forward is Microsoft has opened Cortana for use by 3rd party developers. This means services like Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, etc could all utilise Cortana using the 3rd party SDK.
Cortana is in early Beta and shall remain so during the early stages of Windows Phone 8.1. Also the service will only be available at launch in the USA but we here in the UK can’t wait. This is a major update for Windows Phone and it’s users along with lots more that Microsoft has coming.