Microsoft announces Cortana, voice-controlled assistant for Windows Phone 8.1

As part of the announcement of Windows Phone 8.1 today, Microsoft finally revealed its long-awaited 'Cortana' voice-interaction feature. 

As you might expect, Cortana is baked extensively throughout the OS, with the ability to control features such as appointments, messaging, opening apps, changing settings, and the like. But Microsoft repeatedly highlighted Cortana's abilities beyond simple voice interactions. 

Cortana has extensive learning capabilities, with the ability to monitor interpersonal relationships, frequent locations, personal interests, music tastes and plenty more. In one demo, Windows lead Joe Belfiore showed how Cortana had autonomously flagged a news article that it thought would be of interest to him - an article mentioning that Joe himself was revealing Windows Phone 8.1 in San Francisco. 

In a further demo, Belfiore revealed that he had given Cortana permission to read all of his emails, which resulted in the device asking him if it should monitor status updates for his Alaska Airlines flight. 

In a simple voice interaction demo, Belfiore demonstrated natural language usage to set alarms and check his appointment schedule. In his conversation with Cortana, she set an appointment and notified Joe of a possible scheduling conflict. In Siri-like fashion, Cortana was also able to show appropriate results when looking for a Mexican restaurant in Palo Alto, California, and then narrowing down the search to find only those restaurants which take reservations. 

Cortana has a sense of humour too, for example, likening her appearance - a dual-ringed circle - to a doughnut, among other things, as well as thanking Jimmy Fallon for facilitating her TV début a few weeks ago. 

Initially, Cortana will be restricted to Microsoft and a handful of partners, but the company eventually plans to offer APIs that will allow developers to bake Cortana interactions and functionality deep into their applications. Joe demonstrated the kind of integration that Cortana can provide, by asking the device to remind him to ask his sister about her puppy the next time he speaks to her. Much later in the keynote, his sister 'unexpectedly' called, and on the incoming call screen, there was a note reminding him to ask his sister about her new puppy. 

Cortana looks pretty good in action, but Microsoft is launching Cortana as a beta only for now, and - initially - in the United States only. Further down the line, it will expand to the United Kingdom and China, and other markets beyond that, but the company has not clarified any timeframes yet. 

Top image via Microsoft UK

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36 Comments

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So true, iPhone owners will be mighty jealous about the better Bing-powered Cortana compared to their Bing-powered Siri.

The features of Cortana are great. It would make some of the apps that I'm using now not needed anymore. However, I still think that voice assistant is just a niche market. Don't really see anyone using them on the street..... at least they would look like a moron if they did.
I'm happy enough with the search bar brought down.

Damn, why launching it initially in US only, we people from all around the world would like to be the first to use it.

"Windows lead Joe Belfiore showed how Cortana had autonomously flagged a news article that it thought would be of interest to him"

Samantha, is that you?

"Cortana has extensive learning capabilities, with the ability to monitor interpersonal relationships, frequent locations, personal interests, music tastes and plenty more."

Woman: *sobbing* Yes.. your honor. It didn't take long to hear what that phone had to say about my cheating husband..

Ok MS, take a queue from Apple's marketing strategy, and focus on Cortana when you release an ad or commercial. However, rather than just showing its functionality, show the consumers its ability to "to monitor interpersonal relationships", how well Cortana can adapt and tie in with other apps, and its humor.

Than make other commercial focusing on other 8.1 features, and one commercial that brings it all together. :)

A340600 said,
I wonder if Cortana will be available on Windows tablets. I think that would be cool!

Just Windows tablets? Why not on the desktop? If this was brought to Windows 8 or Windows 9, Microsoft would have a winner.

Dutchie64 said,
someone is blissfully unaware, or trolling ;-)

Blissfully unaware. I have only played the 1st halo on PC and didn't like it so didnt bother finishing it or playing another.

trip21 said,
Yeah I'm disappointed in MS already. Seems they never learn that region blocking is the key to failure!

I notice how it has killed WP sales in all non-US countries. /s

Seriously, there is a lack of understanding if you think Microsoft restricts regions for some esoteric reason.

Some parts of Cortana are voiced by Jen Taylor. The voice actor for Cortana in the Halo games. However, most parts are the traditional voice we got into the phone right now. Let's hope that gets voiced by Jen too. :)

Niekess said,
Some parts of Cortana are voiced by Jen Taylor. The voice actor for Cortana in the Halo games. However, most parts are the traditional voice we got into the phone right now. Let's hope that gets voiced by Jen too. :)

In case others haven't noticed the other articles, Jen will be voicing more for Cortana. Right now the voice is a mix of her and others.

RaulMR said,
I have to eat the phone to talk to Cortana? i hope not.

Or you can use a Bluetooth headset, or even type when you don't want to use voice. :)

Seriously, the room was noisy, although speaking that close may have reduced accuracy, as it might have over modulated. Although Nokia phones do really well at fixing audio input. I can speak to my phone across the room or shoved to my face.