Rather than keep the feature exclusively on Windows smartphones, Microsoft is reportedly also planning to extend Cortana’s reach to its desktop operating system and the Xbox One video game console.
According to ZDNet, Cortana will be the cloud-based, voice-activated intelligent assistant that provides answers to user questions, learning and adapting as it goes, eventually anticipating their requests. It would also seamlessly tie together information from Microsoft’s multiple services, which would mean that Xbox One owners might see gaming-related data included in a response if they were to ask Cortana a question on their Windows-powered smartphone. An appointment booked using Cortana on a Windows phone could generate a reminder flashed on the Xbox.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been talking up a Windows voice-enabled personal assistant for several years now. And recent technical advances in Bing’s search capabilities and improvements in Windows Phone voice recognition technology allow Microsoft to put all the pieces together and come up with an end product to rival Siri or Google Now.
In fact, having watched Siri and Now develop and having Bing power the current iteration of Siri, Microsoft has undoubtedly learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. If it applies those lessons, Cortana could be launched as a feature that’s a generation ahead of its competitors instead of playing catch-up.
Microsoft no doubt wants Cortana to land with fanfare — and the disadvantage to being last is that everyone will compare it to existing services — which is why it hasn’t rushed the feature out. However, Cortana references have been showing up regularly in Windows build screenshots. The Verge has it pegged for a possible Windows Phone 8.1 release in early 2014.
To date, owners of Microsoft Windows 8 phones — and let’s face it, that means Nokia (NOK) Lumia smartphones — have been forced to download a third-party apps like Speaktoit Assistant or Indigo to get Siri-like features. Having a Windows Phone voice-enabled personal assistant will eliminate one of the key shortcomings of the platform and could help it continue to claw its way to greater marketshare.
Having Cortana as a cross-device service will up the value proposition for consumers shopping for PCs and video game consoles too. And if Cortana is a success, that troublesome Bing division could go from being a perennial source of red ink to being a profit center.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.