Microsoft now has an answer to Siri and Google Now, and her name is Cortana. Yes Master Chiefs virtual girlfriend will now be your new virtual assistant on your Windows 8.1 devices and I have to say I am impressed from what I have seen so far. Cortana seems to be a mix of Siri, Google Now and new notification center. Basically they’ve taken the best of the competition and added their own features to it.
Since Cortana will now be handling your notifications you will now be able to set specific times in which to ignore them. This is perfect for those times when you are at a meeting or maybe the movies and don’t want to be bothered by emails or text messages. My favorite part of this service is that you can select specific notifications to break through or set specific scenarios in which notifications can bypass the Quiet Hours feature. A perfect scenario is mentioned in the video of having a phone call get pushed through when it’s the same number calling you repeatedly, possibly for an emergency.
Similar to Google Now, Cortana gives you news stories based on the preferences that you can make in the settings. While he didn’t mention adding specific sources such as news and media website feeds, it’s still an impressive first step into adding a more customizable experience to how you get your latest news and information.
3rd Party Integration
This is Cortana’s most impressive feature. 3rd party developers will now be able to integrate voice commands through Cortana to control their apps. In the video, he demonstrated checking in to Foursquare from Cortana. The possibilities are endless with this feature. Imagine being able to open the web browser on a specific site with just a voice command or launch a specific movie on Netflix.
VS The Competition
Apple has fully integrated their voice assistant with iOS7 and the list of commands is impressive. While you can set reminders with Cortana, their has been no mention on whether or not you will be able to change those reminders after you’ve made them. A nice feature with Siri is the ability to make changes to your schedule after you have already made them. So if you wanted to push back an appointment an hour you can.
While the narrator in the video did take a shot at Google Now, he should admit that a lot of Cortana’s features are “inspired” by Google. For one, Cortana is going to figure out where you live and work, a feature that we first saw with Google Now. While you can set specific categories that you want to be up to date on, Google Now learns what you are interested in through your searches and then gives you relevant information based on your history. Once it gives you the information it thinks you want, you are given the choice of whether or not to keep it. The big difference between Cortana and Google Now is Google’s ability to learn about the user. If I’m flying to Las Vegas, Google Now will not only update me on my flight status, but it will also give me the weather forecast.
It’s to early to tell if Cortana will be a big hit for Microsoft. The naming will certainly drive Halo fans towards their products. While I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far, I think MS has a lot left to do before unseating Siri and Google Now and the voice assistant kings. In the end, having a new comer into the field will only push the likes of Google and Apple to make better products. That’s a win for us all.