Meet Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri

By , Mar 3, 2014

Microsoft Cortana (UI)

The Windows giant Microsoft will be introducing its upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update at the Build conference next month.

With it comes Cortana, a Microsoft-branded personal digital assistant that includes functionality provided by Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now voice-activated assistants.

It also has a few nice features not provided by Apple so perhaps competition from Microsoft (and Google) will prompt the iPhone maker to roll out new Siri features sooner than later. The Verge has an exclusive look at Cortana’s interface and some of its features, here are the highlights…

Author Tom Warren writes that Cortana, which got its name after the Halo game series, will replace the built-in Bing search functionality on Windows Phone 8.1.

Cortana will take the form of a circular animated icon instead of a female character. Cortana will animate when it’s speaking or thinking, forming a personality not dissimilar to Apple’s Siri.

Here’s what the settings UI looks like.

Microsoft Cortana (Settings)

The circular icon animates when Cortana is speaking or thinking.

Like Google Now, Cortana will be able to analyze a user’s email messages for meeting schedules, flight numbers, package delivery information and more, along with push notifications for these items. And like Siri, users will be able to tell Cortana how they want to be addressed.

“Cortana can call users by their name or nicknames like ‘Master Chief’ after they’re enabled in the settings,” explains Warren.

One of the headline features of Cortana is its ability to save information and data in a Notebook system, allowing the digital assistant to access stuff like location data, behaviors, personal information, reminders and contact information. Users can also tap Notebook to manage what information is shared with Cortana.

The voice assistant will learn more about users, optionally storing personal information like home and work locations in the Notebook.

From The Verge’s first-look article dated last month:

Cortana will also react to messages or emails that contain phrases like “let’s meet tomorrow at 8PM” and ask if you’d like to set up reminders or calendar entries. Cortana can also provide guidance on weather, stocks, directions, appointments, and music that’s contextual based on location and other data.

As Cortana is a digital assistant, it will also be able to manage a do-not-disturb feature, similar to iOS, that’s designed to mute notifications. An “inner circle” of contacts will allow Cortana to manage notifications and phone calls during “quiet hours” when notifications are muted.

And lastly, Cortana too will pull information from Microsoft’s own web services like Bing, in addition to third-party data providers such as Foursquare for location data (which helps explain why Microsoft recently invested $15 million in Foursquare).

Microsoft is expected to unveil the feature alongside a developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1 at the upcoming Build conference, which runs April 2-4, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

I’m thinking Apple will want to double down on Siri now that both Google and Microsoft are giving its own personal assistant a good run for her money.

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  • Jonathan

    I don’t really like the name..

    • Gucciipad

      Halo fans love the name

      • Christopher Ablaza

        I named my first stand alone garmin GPS “Cortana” – of course back then I couldn’t talk to devices… I also wanted to rename siri Cortana before I found out you weren’t able to change its name. So sad this goes to a windows os but I can’t blame them.

    • Jason Baroni

      It sounds like a Cirque du Soleil show…

    • Y4VIN

      good point, except its THE BEST NAME EVER!!! she will call me chief!

  • galvax

    Funny, Cortana is the name of Master Chief’s assistant in Halo.

    • Tony Trenkle Jr.

      That’s how they got the name…read the article

    • Dan

      that’s kind of the point

    • Vince Reedy

      Funny, it says the exact thing in the article.

      • VITICO

        LOL LOL

  • Jeremy

    Why aren’t they making actual AI’s like Samantha from Spike Jonze’s movie Her? -.-

  • Research Rants

    Is it Jen Taylor’s voice, or not? Because I’m not switching from iOS for anything, but that would make me come really, really close…

    • Hyr3m

      Wiki says
      “It has been confirmed that the voice actor of Cortana in the games, Jen Taylor, will provide the voice for the virtual assistant to appeal to fans of the Halo series. Microsoft plans to release a beta for Cortana in April of 2014.”
      But there’s no reference so I’m wondering where/when this has been confirmed…

  • Micaiah Martin

    Wow Microsoft…. a little behind eh?

    • Jonathan

      Just a little?

    • https://twitter.com/MrElectrifyer MrElectrifyer

      Uhm, they’ve had one for years already called TellMe. This is just an updated version with a new name…

      • Micaiah Martin

        From reading this article, Cortana is an up to par virtual assistant that is suppose to take on Siri correct? So therefore, that is the reason why I said what I said.

    • smtp25

      Really isn’t Siri still in beta (sic) ?

      • Micaiah Martin

        It doesn’t say so on Apple’s website last I checked.

      • Mhmd Bassam Nasyr

        its out of beta

  • Andrew

    “cortana” is like “καρτάνα” in the cypriot dialect which means bitch or whore LOL

  • madmaxmedia

    That is pretty cool they went with Cortana as the name, if they do use the same voice actor as well.

  • @sexyhamthing

    Any one else notice ‘in absorbing the entire internet’?

  • Dani Hayes

    Just think, in five years RIM will rollout with a virtual assistant of their own. Fingers crossed blackberry users.

  • https://twitter.com/MrElectrifyer MrElectrifyer

    Nice, would be cool to have such Assistant integrated into Windows 8.2. It’ll be taking the already handy voice-control-tool “Windows Speech Recognition” (http://bit ly/1f4vKhO) to a whole new level of assisting

  • Decio Arruda

    Four iPhones late.

  • ModernSpartan

    I hope a tweak of this comes as a “port” in cydia

  • Kash Gummaraju

    Giving Siri a run for its money? Please, Siri was no competition for Google Now when Google Now was launched. In fact Siri got dumbed down from its original app version and still isn’t very smart or as accurate as Now.