Cortana: has Microsoft surprised its users?

Today’s topic is Cortana, which is a smart assistant by Microsoft

cortana

Cortana: has Microsoft surprised its users? Source: shutterstock.com

PaySpace Magazine has decided to make an overview of the most popular virtual assistants, since this software solution is becoming even more popular nowadays.

Today’s topic is Cortana, which is a smart assistant by Microsoft. We are offering you information to consider the abilities of Cortana, its compatible devices, and the reasons why it is better/worse than other major virtual assistants.

What is Cortana

Microsoft has decided to create not just a voice assistant, but rather a realistic humanized one. Even the name was not chosen by chance, because the name Cortana in the video game Halo was the name of a girl, which was an AI assistant.

Cortana was originally released in 2014, and it was one of the key features of Windows 10. Of course, it is not an official statement, but Microsoft most probably became interested in the popularity and development of such a solution as a virtual assistant, and the nearest market competitors already had the answers (Google Now by Google, and Siri by Apple). However, Microsoft decided to build its assistant right into the desktop.

There are two ways to use Cortana: you can use voice commands, or you can type out your commands in the Start Menu. Voice control can be enabled with the help of “Hey Cortana” command. Here is the way to set it up:

  1. Search for “Cortana settings” in your Start Menu.
  2. Enable the toggle under “Hey Cortana.”
  3. (Optional) Under “Respond best”, you can choose “to me” to tailor Cortana to your voice. You’ll need to perform a couple of quick exercises to teach Cortana your voice. Otherwise, Cortana will work for anyone.

Cortana understands not only what you have said, but also what you meant. When you make a voice request, you can use an informal language (both spoken and written), as if you are asking your friend (not a voice assistant). Typing whole sentences is quite inefficient. Thus, you can change “What events do I have today?” for “events today”, or “Where is the nearest Chinese food restaurant?” for “nearest Chinese restaurant.”

cortana

Cortana understands not only what you have said, but also what you meant. Source: shutterstock.com

What can I ask Cortana about?

  • Meetings (“make an appointment at 8 am for a cycling”)
  • Alarm clock (“wake me up at 7 am”)
  • Application (“open Netflix/banking app/etc”, “let’s play Angry Birds/Minecraft/GTA/etc”)
  • Another kind of app (“call Jane using Skype”, “unread messages in Facebook”)
  • Call (“Call Mike”), cell phone only
  • Chat (“sing me a goodnight song”, “tell me a joke”)
  • Places and routes (“Show me the shortest way to work”)
  • Email (“send an email to my brother”)
  • Music (“play Madonna’s latest album”). However, it cannot play music from cloud storage. It also can find a song with the help of the UI button
  • Reminders (“remind me to start cooking lasagne at 7 pm”)
  • Search files in One drive (“show me the latest PowerPoint project”)
  • Search things on the internet using a keyword (“find videos with cute kittens”, “what is the age of the Solar System?”)
  • Settings (“turn on silent mode”)
  • Weather (“What’s the weather like?”), but such a query will be valid only if location services of your device are switched on, otherwise, you’ll have to specify your location. On the other hand, you can ask about the weather in a specific area to get that weather forecast.

The most frequently used Cortana requests

  • Calculator
  • My schedule
  • Converter (weight, length, currency, etc)
  • Dictionary (“what is thermodynamics”, “give me an example of synecdoche”)
  • Finance (“what is the price of Microsoft stock shares today?”)
  • Flights (“what is the status of flight DL 456?”)
  • Location (“find the nearest gas station”)
  • Movies (“the list of latest movies in the cinema”)
  • News (“show me the latest news”, “Donald Trump news”)
  • Diners and restaurants (“the nearest diner”, “where is the best Japanese food?”)
  • Time zones (“What is the time in Brazil now?”)

Some of the Cortana functions depend on Microsoft’s services. For instance, if you do not use Microsoft’s Calendar app, Cortana will not be able to get info about your schedule. Some features can be even synchronized with Google services in order to fill in the gaps.

cortana

Some of the Cortana functions depend on Microsoft’s services. Source: shutterstock.com

  • What’s on my schedule? It is very important not to miss your scheduled events, and Cortana will gladly remind you of what is coming up soon, tomorrow, or any other time frame. It will also handle a question like “What are my plans for this weekend?” But here’s the thing, schedule-related features of Cortana depend entirely on Outlook or the built-in Calendar application. Nevertheless, it is not a dead end. You can sync the system with your Google Calendar.
  • What’s the status of my flight? Microsoft is aware of your upcoming flights due to emails via Outlook. If you synchronize Gmail with the built-in Mail app or Outlook, you will give Cortana more details and data, so it will be easier to ask just short “my flight”, or find a flight by number.
  • How long will it take me to get to (a particular place)? Cortana will tell you the travel time and how long it will take to get to a specific (required) place only if location services on your device are enabled.
  • Show me my notes. The assistant will easily find your notes if you use OneNote.

It is convenient to be able to just say or text command to an assistant and get an answer right away, especially when you are busy. On the other hand, Cortana’s major disadvantage is that most of its commonly used business-orientated and really handy features require using Microsoft services.

Devices

Cortana was released for Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Windows Phone 8.1, Invoke smart speaker, Microsoft Band, Surface Headphones, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Windows Mixed Reality, and Amazon Alexa.
Microsoft has also embedded Cortana into different products such as Microsoft Edge, the browser bundled with Windows 10.

In 2016, Microsoft announced the integration of Cortana into Skype in the form of a bot. This bot was supposed to help users to order food, book trips, transcribe video messages, make calendar appointments through Cortana, and more. However, a lot of users noted that Skype-integrated Cortana responded to very specific keywords, which left a feeling of having a conversation with a search engine. Moreover, such a system can easily bring you up Adele’s or Lionel Richie’s song (of the same name) if you tell it “Hello”.

In 2017, Microsoft announced a smart speaker Invoke (stylized as INVOKE) ($200). This speaker is manufactured by Harman Kardon, and is a voice-activated Cortana-compatible device. It can play music, make and receive calls with Skype, and perform all other Cortana’s features.

Cortana makes Invoke speaker compatible with home automation platforms including Insteon, Nest, SmartThings, Wink, and Philips Hue. In 2018, Microsoft announced that it had expanded its connected home skills by adding ecobee, Honeywell Lyric, Honeywell Total Connect Comfort, LIFX, TP-Link Kasa, and Geeni compatibility. Furthermore, IFTTT support was also added.

To sum up, we want to say that Cortana is not a bad voice assistant, but it is still not the best. It has quite a standard set of functions, and is not able to perform something its nearest competitors can’t. To put it mildly, the “smart home” concept is not the strongest suit by Cortana, while most of its commonly used business-orientated and really handy features require using Microsoft services (as we’ve mentioned before).

SEE ALSO: Bixby: Samsung’s answer to the market leaders’ solutions

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