Microsoft's Cortana Digital Assistant Comes to iOS and Android
Redmond's digital personal assistant, Cortana, received an intelligence boost this summer with the release of the Windows 10 operating system. Now Microsoft is expanding its intelligent-assistant ambitions even further by bringing Cortana to select iOS, Android and Cyanogen mobile devices.
Marcus Ash, group program manager for Cortana, made the announcement in a blog post today. He said the news marks a "big step" in delivering on Microsoft's vision to make Cortana's assistance available to users regardless of their devices of choice.
Two months before the late-July release of Windows 10, Microsoft had already pledged to bring Cortana to iOS and Android devices as a more limited-capability phone companion app. Cortana for Android was released in beta in August, while the iOS version became available to beta testers in November.
Available Now in U.S. and China
"Cortana was created to be a truly personal digital assistant -- available on the go, no matter where or when you need help, and on whatever device you carry," Ash said in the blog post. "That's why it's important to us that we bring Cortana to not only the Windows 10 ecosystem, but to other platforms."
The Cortana app is available today in both the U.S. and China for Android devices running 4.1.2 and up, and for iPhone with iOS 8 and up. Users in the U.S. with One Plus One phones powered by the Android-based Cyanogen OS will be able to access Cortana later this month via a 12.1.1 over-the-air update.
Among the tasks that Cortana will be able to handle on Android, iOS and Cyanogen devices are location-based reminders that, for instance, can give you a nudge to buy a wine gift when you're close to a package store. It can also pop up missed-call alerts to your Windows 10 PC while sending callers automated texts to let them know you'll call back later, or it help you track flights, packages, stocks and scores on your PC or phone.
"While the Cortana app is fully-featured, there are some things Cortana can do on Windows phones that aren't currently possible with iOS or Android," Ash noted. "This includes toggling settings or opening apps, and the ability to invoke Cortana hands-free by saying 'Hey Cortana.' "
Cortana as 'Gateway'
IDC analyst David Schubmehl told us that expanding Cortana's reach is "probably a pretty good idea for Microsoft." While Android users already have the Google Now assistant and iPhone owners have Siri, many of them -- particularly office and knowledge workers -- probably also use Microsoft software, so Cortana can provide them with some integrated functionality they might not otherwise have.
After all, "What's the most-used office package on Mac? It's Microsoft Office," he asked. In that respect, the new app can function as a gateway for non-Windows Phone users to make greater use of Cortana across a variety of Microsoft productivity tools they already access from their devices, according to Schubmehl.
"The competition for the personal assistant space is already intense. Apple released a major Siri update in June, where our data shows some real improvements in their results. Google is constantly making changes as well," Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting -- which has been tracking the comparative strengths of various digital personal assistants -- told us.
Enge said he thought Microsoft's latest app release was a great idea. "Personal assistants become the way for companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft to gain trusted relationships with users and capture a large share of the advertising opportunities on these new device types," he said. "If Microsoft can establish Cortana as a leader and get users from iPhone and Android environments, it would be a big win for them."
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