Are you a fan of Google now or Siri? Forget these as Microsoft released its new virtual assistant. Virtual assistant named Cortana namely has more mobile brains than its perpetual rivals. Announced at the company’s latest press event in San Francisco, virtual assistant Cortana will be integrated into the latest Windows Phone 8.1 smartphone OS and rely primarily on the Bing’s search engine and voice recognition software. And, unlike Siri, Cortana has some attitude. Ask Cortana who’s her dad, and Cortana will answer: “Technically, he’s Bill Gates. No big deal.”
Microsoft states Cortana has the ability to pay complete attention to your interests, the places you visit and what are you searching for. That said, Cortana will offer very tailored search results and suggestions. Not only that, Cortana adapts to your needs as it gets smarter the more you use it.
It is important to mention that Cortana has more skills in its arsenal. Cortana has the capability of keeping track of your flights, digging into associated details to serve you better and checking when your next appointments are. This virtual assistant also remembers your previous question so that you don’t have to repeat yourself for a follow-up. For example, Cortana, the virtual assistant by Microsoft, will be able to enter your appointment details to, say, call the hotel or restaurant where you are planning on having dinner and adjust the reservation if necessary.
Even more, you will be able to ask Microsoft’s Cortana to perform voice assistant tasks like saving calendar reminders. Where the company expects Cortana to really surpass its rivals is in the realm of contextual awareness. Also, there are reports that Cortana will have a special feature where users can toggle options like personal information, location data and contact information individually, to help keep whatever secrets you have out of Cortana’s digital hands.
Additionally, you can tell Cortana to create reminders and notes centered around people and co-workers. For example, it has the feature to remind you to ask about your brother’s puppy the next time he calls. The virtual assistant is also supposed to be intelligent enough to understand many different queries using simple, natural language. For example, Windows Phone users can say, “Twitter, what’s up with my friends?” and Cortana will give you a detailed report of your friend’s recent Twitter activity.
While I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked taking a demo Windows Phone for a spin, I have been able to give Cortana a quick test drive. At the Microsoft’s press event I have played with older Lumia 1020 handsets tricked out to run Windows Phone 8.1.
Maybe it was because the demo phone didn’t have a live SIM card and I have been connected to the on-site wireless network, but Cortana was not very nimble. In fact, Cortana took about 10 seconds to return search results. It is very obvious that this is way longer than Google Now or Siri.
The user interface is not as slick as Google Now or Siri as you must tapon a very small microphone icon in the Bing toolbar or hit the Cortana icon to begin searches. This is frustrating and it is nowhere as easy as saying, “Okay, Google Now” on a Motorola Droid phone which launches a query and even wakes up the device from sleep.
Also, it has been frustrating that I couldn’t try out the more advanced abilities Cortana is touted to have as Microsoft explained these abilities were not installed on the demo Lumia phone. That said, it certainly all sounds very futuristic. Microsoft explained that Cortana is still officially in beta. I realize some bugs and functions still need to be fixed and worked out before the virtual assistant arrives on new Windows phones in the following months.