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article imageMicrosoft's Cortana comes to Android as a public beta

By James Walker     Aug 25, 2015 in Technology
Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant, previously exclusive to Windows devices, has arrived on Android in public beta form. The app can be downloaded and used as a Google Now replacement, although some of its features remain available on Windows only.
As much as some Windows fans may lament it, bringing its key services and apps to as many platforms as possible is an integral part of Microsoft's long-term software strategy. Cortana has already moved from a relatively small user base with Windows Phone to the millions of people who are expected to use Windows 10 over the next few years.
By bringing Android users into the mix (and iOS too in the future), Microsoft can expand the service's reach and easily encroach onto the native digital assistants of each platform - Siri and Google Now. The Android version of the app can be set to open on a long press of the home button, replacing the usual Google Now shortcut and making Cortana the easier service to access.
Cortana on Android "can do most of the things" that are possible on Windows 10 or Windows Phone. Opening the app reveals a scrolling vertical list of personalised information - similar to Google Now's cards interface - that can be customised by going to Cortana's Notebook, in the left hamburger menu. Microsoft worked with real personal assistants to hit on the idea of the notebook, creating a more human-like companion.
Cortana can show the latest news, stock updates, location-specific weather, reminders and much more. In the evening, suggestions for nearby restaurants - tailored to your cuisine preferences - will appear. In the morning, a digest of the day will make it easy to see what's in your calendar, alongside the latest news.
As with Windows, voice commands are alive and well in the Android version of Cortana, although the always-listening "Hey Cortana" activation command isn't present. Microsoft has less hardware access to Android devices than with its own software so some features cannot be brought across and will remain Windows exclusive. For this reason, apps cannot be opened or settings toggled on Android, amongst other differences.
Cortana began life 16 months ago as a key feature of Windows Phone 8.1 but has now become a key component on Windows 10, inhabiting a search box on the taskbar and allowing users to hear the latest news, set an alarm or send an email with a simple "Hey Cortana" voice command. Recently, the feature was named as the "most loved" Windows 10 component in an analysis of 7,000 mentions of the operating system on social media.
Android users can download Cortana today by visiting a link on the Google Play Store. The app is still in beta and as such may contain a few bugs and rough edges. Cortana on Android is currently only available in the U.S. although a larger rollout to the other regions where Cortana works on Windows 10 is planned for later.
More about Microsoft, Windows, windows 10, cortana, Android
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