If you missed Microsoft’s Build Conference this year, you might be wondering — just what is Cortana Voice? Cortana is a new personal digital assistant that is currently available as a beta program for the Windows 8.1 Phone, with the full program expected to be rolled out to Windows Phone users later this fall.
The program’s name and operational concept are inspired by Master Chief’s indispensable AI sidekick in the popular Halo series of video games. When using the program, users can choose between a male and female voice, and the female voice sounds eerily similar to Cortana’s voice from the video games as well. Diehard Halo fans can’t really help using terms such as “she” and “her” when referring to the program.
Powered by Bing Search, the program can recognize voice search commands like Siri and Now, but that is where the similarity ends, as Cortana is designed to get personal with users and anticipate her user’s needs and meet them, before she is asked.
Getting Up Close and Personal with Cortana
Users can access the program either by voice command, or by pressing a tile that contains a blue circle or “halo,” which is another connection that Halo fans will instantly recognize. Cortana is designed to build a personal relationship with her owner and become their trusted ally. She asks questions and gets to know you, and maintains this information in her notebook. You can control most of the data that Cortana maintains in her notebook, and even disable some of the features. This is helpful if you start to get uncomfortable with what Cortana knows about you.
As your relationship grows, she learns to anticipate your needs. Cortana links with your personal data, interests and search history, in a similar fashion as Google Now. Cortana, however, uses this information to make smart recommendations as well as alert you to important events and filter information so that you have more time to spend on tasks, activities and interests that truly matter to you. Like Apple’s Siri and Google Now, she can turn on Bluetooth and schedule your appointments, and remind you so that you stay on track and on time. Just like a human assistant, she can intelligently discern when you have a scheduling conflict and let you know, ahead of time, so that you can take steps to resolve the issue before it even becomes a problem.
Examples of What Cortana Can Do for Users that Apple’s Siri and Google Now Can’t
An example of Cortana’s capabilities is that once she learns your location, and when you are expected at work and the route that you normally take, she will alert you ahead of time when traffic or other conditions might make you late on your regular commute, as well as link to the map of your route and any alternate routes. She’ll also let you know if your flight is going to be on time or delayed, and remind you when you need to leave for the airport so that you won’t be late.
You’ll also receive other important news throughout the day, such as weather conditions, breaking news that’s important to you, and more. You can also choose to give and receive information by voice or text commands. This is especially helpful for those times when you need to quickly get the lowdown on something important that is happening in the world — such as how your favorite team is doing in their latest match with their arch rival. But you need to receive this information silently and in secret, which is especially helpful for boardroom meetings or any other place you don’t want your supervisor to catch you without your nose to the grindstone.
Do you remember how restful sleep was before life got so complicated that you needed to go to bed with your smartphone? Many of us feel as though we can’t unplug from our busy, hectic lifestyles, but Cortana can help users reclaim their precious time with her the ability to set smart quiet hours. Cortana will watch out for you while you are asleep or away during your quiet hours, so you won’t be interrupted with an alert, phone call or notification — unless it’s an important call from someone in your “inner circle” that you really can’t afford to miss.
Say goodbye to those aggravating times that you are awakened in the middle of the night by your smartphone’s notification alert going off because some random person on one of your social media networks posted a picture of what they ate the day before! This is great for busy executives, working parents, EMT, police, fire and health care workers. With Cortana plugged in and personally looking out for you, you can feel free enough to unplug and get some much needed sleep and time away without having to worry you will miss an urgent call or notification from someone truly important.
Cortana will also work with most third-party apps that are installed on your Windows Phone and help you use them. Need help watching a show on Hulu, or making a call with Skype? Cortana will be glad to assist you, all you have to do is ask.
During the last few years, the vast majority of the smartphone market has been comprised of Android and iPhone devices, but this one app may well shake things up whether or not users are members of the Halo Nation. While the Cortana in the Halo series of video games helps Master Chief save humanity and the entire universe 500 years in the future, the Cortana voice assistant of today watches her users’ backs and keeps them on track with their daily schedule.
Tell us what you think about Microsoft’s new Cortana voice assistant and Windows Phone 8.1 in the comments section below. Is the prospect of having a smart digital personal assistant that anticipates your needs and meets them before you ask for help enough to get you to change smartphone brands?