What is Cortana? A Personal Assistant and More

What is Cortana -- Halo 4

I’ve been asked “What is Cortana?” by a few people lately. “Halo” gamers are already quite familiar with Cortana. In short, Cortana is the Windows Phone equivalent of Apple’s Siri and Google Now.

What that means is that if you have a device with Windows Phone 8.1 on it, you now have a very powerful personal organizer/assistant built into the operating system of your device.

Cortana can be used like Google or Bing to find information, but it also does so much more. Let’s take a look at what can be done with this powerful new tool from Microsoft.

What is Cortana and What Does it Offer?

What is Cortana - NewsTake a look at the image to the right. That’s the opening screen for the Cortana app on my Nokia Lumia 720 running Windows 8.1.

I’ve been working with Windows Phone 8.1 and Cortana on the phone for a little over a week now and it has begun to memorize some of the things that interest me. She (I picked the female voice-more on that later.) therefore shows me news about what’s going on in the Ukraine, and some news about U.S. politics. This will be the default until more customizing is done, but for now, it’s cool.

Where Did That Message from the Boss Go?

Have you ever spent a significant amount of time searching through your messages looking for a specific message from someone, but didn’t remember whether they emailed or sent a text? Just tell Cortana to find it. “Find recent message from the boss.”

Wink: Cortana Can Name that Song in 10 Notes

What is Cortana - MusicI know, I know. I just dated myself with that, but, that’s fine. Have you ever heard a song that you enjoyed to the point you wanted to add it to your music collection, but didn’t know the artist or song title? Not a problem. While the song is playing, launch Cortana and tap the musical note icon at the upper right. As you can see in the image above, Cortana will listen to it and then find it and display the answer for you.

“Read” and Reply to Messages by Voice

Have you ever gotten a text message that you knew was important and had to answer immediately while driving? Up to now, hopefully you’ve pulled over, checked and replied to the message. Cortana makes that a thing of the past, if you have BlueTooth in the car. Cortana will cut the radio and read you the message and then give you the option to reply.

What’s My Schedule Look Like for This Week Cortana?

What is Cortana -- ScheduleBack in the ’80s and ’90s, I leaned heavily on my Day-Timer Planner. The problem is it was bulky and heavy and required me to lug a briefcase or backpack almost everywhere I went. Cortana shrinks that ungainly 10-pound notebook down to a few ounces that fit comfortably in my pocket. Just launch Cortana, tap the microphone icon and ask her about your upcoming schedule. She even gathers data for Facebook events.

You can also use Cortana to create your schedule for the future. To do this just tap the microphone icon and tell Cortana the details of the event you’re scheduling. You will receive reminders as the time of the event approaches. Imagine driving down the road and hearing about an event (like a concert) that you want to attend, but not being able to write down the details. Cortana lets you speak those details and she’ll record them.

How Do I Get Cortana On My Phone?

First off, you have to have a phone running Windows Phone 8. Next, you have to update that phone’s operating system to Windows Phone 8.1. If you don’t mind waiting, you can do that, but if you want Cortana now, you need to go to the Windows Phone Store and download the Developer’s Kit and install it. That takes a bit of time, but when it’s finished, you will be able to upgrade to 8.1.

Once the upgrade completes, Cortana is installed. The Windows Phone website has full details and easy to follow instructions to help you through the update/upgrade process. During the installation process you’ll be asked whether you want the male or female voice.

Now that you know the answer to the question of “What Is Cortana?” I’d like hear your thoughts and feelings. Have you upgraded yet and developed and opinion? Let me know in the comments below. These are just a few of the things that Cortana can do. Experiment with her. Let her flex her muscle and show her intelligence. You’ll be happy you did!

Photo Credit: MGF Customs/Reviews