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article imageMicrosoft says Cortana will become 'ubiquitous digital assistant'

By James Walker     Jan 22, 2018 in Technology
Microsoft has publicly addressed the scepticism around its Cortana assistant. The company's rival to Alexa and Google Assistant has been left exposed after CES. It has only a handful of third-party integrations and consumer use is thought to be low.
"Not dead yet"
Digital assistance dominated this year's CES tech fair in Las Vegas, with Alexa and Google Assistant directly targeting each over in a massive show of force. Microsoft's Cortana also turned up but its presence was hardly noticed. Despite the company's launch of some new integrations with smart home hardware, tech commentator Larry Dignan from ZDNet declared CES "Cortana's funeral."
Microsoft's now taken the unusual step of responding to the growing doubts around Cortana. In an interview with Business Insider, Microsoft Corporate VP of Cortana Development Andrew Shuman insisted the assistant is "not dead yet." He explained how Microsoft is approaching Cortana as a long-term project. He added the assistant has capabilities which its rivals can't achieve.
Cortana on an Android phone
Cortana on an Android phone
You don’t need to look far to find these emerging capabilities. Microsoft's previously emphasised how Cortana can deeply integrate with its Office 365 cloud platform, helping to uncover data insights and proactively assist. The assistant also has access to vast pools of data from Microsoft's software platforms, including Windows 10, Azure cloud, mobile apps and even the Xbox One.
Getting started
None of this escapes the reality of Cortana's current state though. With just 230 "skills," Cortana is lagging far behind the market leader Alexa. Amazon now claims there are 25,000 third-party capabilities for its assistant ecosystem. Despite heavily promoting Cortana to Windows 10 users, it's apparent that real-world uptake of the assistant is still very low.
Shuman told Business Insider that there is a vision for Cortana but it could take "5 to 10 years" to implement. He acknowledged "we should get started," saying Microsoft only began to decouple Cortana from Windows last year. Shuman added that the ultimate vision is an "ubiquitous digital assistant" that knows who you are and can help you on any device, irrespective of platform.
The race to relevance
It remains to be seen what Microsoft will really be able to achieve with Cortana. The company is now seen to be losing its market position, which could make future cross-platform developments difficult.
Cortana to-do lists with Wunderlist integration
Cortana to-do lists with Wunderlist integration
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Shuman's depiction of Cortana development as a long game has echoes of the company's past comments on Windows Phone. After entering the market late and failing to gain traction, the company quietly conceded defeat last year. Some analysts consider Cortana may meet a similar fate.
According to Shuman, development of Cortana is still very much ongoing with the focus on unlocking insights from Microsoft's vast portfolio of cloud solutions. So far, very few of the company's talking points have been publicly launched though. For most end users, Alexa or Google Assistant already have more real-world value. Cortana might not be dead yet but the assistant is still at a precarious position in the market.
More about Microsoft, cortana, digital assistance, digital assistant, Ai
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