Reports suggest that Microsoft is working on an advanced version of the Cortana virtual assistant and plans to make Cortana available for iOS and Android as well. If true it would just be the latest move by Microsoft to expand beyond its own ecosystem and give users access to Microsoft tools and services no matter which operating system or mobile device they choose.
Cortana is already available as virtual assistant a’ la Siri on Windows Phone, and Cortana functionality is also being built in to the upcoming Windows 10 operating system. The new, more advanced version of Cortana is being built to function as a search engine with the ability to read and make decisions on its own thanks to an artificial intelligence research project at Microsoft code-named “Einstein”.
Project Einstein is a secret project which attempts to take artificial intelligence on mobile devices to the next level. The aims of the project is simple—imbibe Cortana with artificial intelligence that combine elements of similar rival services to create a more advanced, more proactive tool.
Before going into details on how Cortana might succeed as a cross-platform virtual assistant, let’s first go through its features. The advanced virtual assistant will be able to read—not just read, but also understand—emails and notifications. It merges the request answering machine element of competitors like Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s S voice, with the predictive intelligence of Google Now to raise the bar for virtual assistants. It will be capable then of applying its artificial intelligence for predictive analysis to proactively help keep you informed and get things done.
The managing director of Microsoft Research, Eric Horvitz, told Reuters, “We’re defining the competitive landscape… of who can provide the most supportive services that make life easier, keep track of things, that complement human memory in a way that helps us get things done.”
According to Forbes, Cortana could tell a mobile phone user when to leave for the airport or attend a function days after it had read through the user’s email or schedule. It would also be able to check flight status, analyze traffic conditions and draw-up alternative routes to beat traffic. Cortana’s ability to read through data and use its intuition is what sets it apart from the competition and also makes it a dangerous competitor.
The primary challenge such an app would face is that it wouldn’t be integrated into the competing platforms as the default solutions are. For example, there are elements of Google Now available in the iOS app, but Siri is woven into the very fabric of iOS. Most iPhone and iPad users still choose to rely on Siri because Siri is the tool that is tightly integrated into the rest of the device. Choosing to use a third-party app like Cortana—no matter how powerful or effective it may be—takes a conscious effort on the part of the user to swim against current.
Microsoft has not officially confirmed intentions to bring Cortana to iOS and Android, but given its recent cross-platform expansion with OneNote and Microsoft Office it wouldn’t be a surprise. Make sure you stay engaged on TechSpective and check back. I will be bringing regular updates on Cortana and Project Einstein your way.