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article imageWatch out Siri: Microsoft Cortana comes to iOS, Android this year

By James Walker     Mar 13, 2015 in Technology
Microsoft is going to bring its Cortana voice-controlled digital assistant in an enhanced form to iPhones and Android devices later this year after the launch of Windows 10, directly competing with Siri and Google Now already included on the platforms.
The standalone app represents new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's vision of making Microsoft services available to users of platforms that aren't themselves developed by Microsoft. After debuting on Windows Phone a year ago and now being available in Windows 10 preview builds, Cortana will venture away from her native home in the autumn according to Reuters.
She will have to compete against offerings from both Google and Apple that are planted directly into the operating system though. Siri remains the biggest name in voice control for non-Windows Phone users, although the ability of her feature-set is now questionable. Google Now, undisputedly containing the largest core feature-set, may prove hard to unseat due to its tight integration with the core operating system.
This is something that Cortana will have no access to on Android and iOS. On Windows Phone, she is integrated into the system and is constantly aware of the phone, listening for her name when the user says "Hey, Cortana" on compatible devices. Google Now listens for "OK, Google" on Android devices. Cortana may not be able to gain the low-level hardware access required to achieve this passive listening on Android devices.
Microsoft hope to negate this by making Cortana the most powerful, most versatile and most personal digital assistant available. Whereas Siri and Google Now both blankly respond to requests for information, Cortana gets to know her user. She combines the best aspects of Google Now and Siri with a touch of personality.
Google Now is incredibly good at doing what it is told. Yet, at best, the response is a simple one that simply states the information. Cortana instills her speech with personality though, selecting from a series of potential responses depending on a variety of conditions. It is worth noting that Siri is actually powered by the Bing knowledge database used for Cortana.
Cortana is also the most frequently updated of the trio. Typically expanded every two weeks, the team who operate her "knowledge base" also ensure that she gets meaningful, dynamic answers to questions about special events such as Christmas or Valentine's Day and details on topical subjects in the media. Running off the Bing servers, all content is stored in the cloud so no "update" is seen by Cortana users.
Microsoft has plans to make Cortana even more powerful for Windows 10 though. Talking to Reuters, Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research, said: "This kind of technology, which can read and understand email, will play a central role in the next roll out of Cortana, which we are working on now for the fall time frame."
Horvitz oversees a project known as "Einstein" which seeks to give Cortana the levels of intelligence required for her to be able to advise her users when to leave for the airport based on details she picked up on from an incoming email received weeks ago. Horvitz views the keys to the success of Cortana as her always knowing where the user is, what time it is and what the user is trying to do.
Microsoft hopes to make the next major development of Cortana, "Einstein", the most adept digital assistant currently available. Using machine learning, enhanced search abilities and the vast reserves of knowledge on Bing, the result should be cross-platform and personalised to every user.
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