Cortana: Will Microsoft’s Rampant A.I. Soon Infect Apple Devices?

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)took several jabs at Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri in a recently launched commercial that touts its own voice-activated personal assistant, called Cortana. In the commercial, an iPhone 5S with Siri is compared to a Lumia 635 smartphone that features Cortana running on Windows Phone 8.1. As seen in the video above, Cortana is able to successfully perform several tasks that Siri cannot do.

At the user’s request, Cortana creates a reminder to wish the user’s wife a happy anniversary next time he speaks with her, and another reminder to purchase roses the next time he is near a flower shop. Finally, Cortana volunteers a traffic alert that shows the user the fastest route to get to a restaurant. Although Siri is unable to complete the user’s requests, Apple’s personal assistant has apparently mastered the ability to deliver puns, since it concludes by quipping, “Now that is a ‘smart’ phone.”

While it is hardly surprising that Cortana would outperform Siri in a commercial made by Microsoft, the ad does highlight the digital assistant’s impressive ability to perform contextually aware tasks. By linking the reminder to a specific person in the user’s contact list, Cortana knows to provide a “happy anniversary” reminder the next time he communicates with his wife. Similarly, Cortana is able to provide a reminder to buy roses when the user is near a flower shop by attaching the request to a specific geographic context. Finally, the contextual notification about traffic conditions is based on Cortana’s knowledge of the user’s calendar.

Besides flaunting Cortana’s contextual awareness, the advertisement also offered further evidence that Microsoft is positioning Cortana as a direct competitor to Apple’s Siri. Microsoft first revealed Cortana’s multi-platform ambitions in a keynote presentation given at the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) Advanced conference in June.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“We want to scale Cortana internationally and across devices,” said Windows Phone Group Program Manager Mark Ash at the SMX Advanced conference, according to coverage provided by Search Engine Land. “The Android/iOS question is interesting. We’re asking, would Cortana be as effective if she didn’t have access to the details on your phone? We’re still trying to get Cortana adopted on Windows Phone and figure out what it wants to become there. But we’re actively talking about this. I think it’s natural to think that an assistant that only runs on one device … the idea that she will be very pervasive is important to us.”

Besides mocking Siri in a commercial and pondering Cortana’s possible expansion to other platforms, Microsoft also makes an oblique reference to Apple on Cortana’s “Introduction” page on the Windows Phone website. “Hi, I’m Cortana. Nice to meet you,” ssays Cortana. “My name’s pronounced like this: Core, as in ‘apple core.’”

OK, so maybe that last reference was a stretch. Obviously, since Cortana is currently only available on Windows Phone, it still remains to be seen if it will even have a shot at unseating Siri as the personal digital assistant queen of iOS. Still, with the existence of two major personal digital assistant rivals in the form of Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri may have several good reasons to be paranoid.

More from Tech Cheat Sheet:

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS