More Details On Microsoft’s Cortana: Can She Top Siri?


Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is preparing its digital personal assistant, “Cortana” — which will compete with Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri — to be included in the Windows Phone 8.1 update that’s rumored to be coming this spring. This will be the first major update to Windows Phone since Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia’s (NYSE:NOK) handset division.

Rumors about Cortana have been making the rounds for the past couple of months, but this week, sources familiar with Cortana spoke to The Verge and offered some more details about the functions of the assistant, which is named after a character in the popular Xbox game Halo. Cortana will replace the Bing search function currently available on Windows Phone 8.1.

Cortana will be similar to Siri in that she is a female assistant that will develop her own personality over time. Users can assign Cortana to refer to them either by their real names or as a nickname. Cortana will also have some functions similar to Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Google Now, including taking information from emails — such as flight details — and adding it to a user’s calendar. Cortana will work alongside Microsoft’s Notebook app to keep track of information on a user’s location, personal info, reminders, contacts, and any other data on a phone.

Previous reports have suggested that Cortana will be included in the Xbox One video game console and the next update of Windows, in 2015, after its release for the Windows Phone. Good news for Siri haters: Cortana could even be available on Apple’s iPhone through the Bing app. Cortana’s natural language processing abilities will likely be powered by Bing’s Satori knowledge base, similar to the way that Siri is powered by Wolfram Alpha.

Plans for Cortana were first alluded to in a memo sent by Microsoft’s then-CEO, Steve Ballmer, last year. In the memo, Ballmer discussed a “service-enabled shell” that “will be deeply personalized, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world.”

Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, is under a lot of pressure to improve Windows Phone and get Microsoft on track to compete in the smartphone market. For now, the company is far behind industry dominators Apple and Samsung (SSNLF.PK), and some are still highly skeptical that Microsoft will be able to carve out even a small niche in the increasingly saturated smartphone market.

The purchase of Nokia’s handset unit, which makes the Lumia smartphones running on Windows, was a move for Microsoft to gain more control over the Windows Phone, with hopes of growing the platform. If Cortana is an improvement over Siri, it could be a key marketing feature for the Windows Phone.

Fans of Microsoft and the Windows Phone shouldn’t get too excited about the Cortana feature just yet. It’s uncertain whether the final version of the software will keep the Cortana name, and a developer version isn’t likely to be unveiled until the Build developer conference in April.

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