About one month after a pre-official release version of Cortana for Android leaked out online, Microsoft is now making the app available as a public beta to anyone who wants to take it for a test drive. The Android version of the digital assistant isn't identical to the native app on Windows, but it can "do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone," according to Redmond.
Named for the artificial intelligence character in the Halo videogame series, Cortana became a far more visible presence when Microsoft released its Windows 10 operating system on July 29. On devices running the new OS, Cortana can respond to voice commands, answer natural-language questions, offer verbal to-do reminders to users and manage a wide variety of other tasks.
On Android devices, Cortana will function not as a built-in OS feature but as a "phone companion" app. An iOS version for iPhone users is also planned, although not yet available.
Just for Android in U.S.
Windows "Insiders" have been able to try out the Android version of Cortana for a few weeks, and their feedback has contributed to a number of changes that users of the public beta will notice. Among those is "the ability to set Cortana as the destination for the home button press," Susan Hendrich, Microsoft's principal program manager lead, noted in a blog post today.
"Now access to your personal digital assistant is just a button-press away," Hendrich said. "As with all betas, we are continually improving the experience and will incorporate feedback along the way."
For now, Cortana's Android users will not be able to activate the digital assistant with the simple verbal command, "Hey Cortana." The public beta released today is also currently available only in the U.S., although it will eventually roll out to other markets as well, Hendrich said, adding, "Stay tuned for more details."
Cortana's Job: To Help Users Complete Tasks
The full Windows 10 version of Cortana, which is designed to function seamlessly across all devices running the new OS, is part of the Windows search feature. Cortana is also included in Edge, the new browser that Microsoft has developed as a successor to Internet Explorer.
Among the first markets to see the full capabilities of Windows 10 Cortana are the U.S., U.K., China, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Microsoft has customized the assistant for different languages, countries and cultures, and plans to continue releasing more updates during the year.
"What's important about this work is that Cortana's main job is to help each individual to complete tasks," Marcus Ash, group program manager for Cortana, noted in a blog post prior to the release of Windows 10. "For example, in China we understand how important air quality is to local residents, so part of Cortana's job is to track data on air quality and actively provide that information to customers in China.