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Microsoft Releases Cortana On iOS, Android

Microsoft has launched Cortana, its personal digital assistant, as an app for iPhone and Android devices.

Windows 10, New Devices, Exec Shakeup: Microsoft's 2015
Windows 10, New Devices, Exec Shakeup: Microsoft's 2015
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Microsoft is officially launching its Cortana app for select iOS and Android devices. Starting Dec. 9, users in the US and China can download the personal digital assistant on their iPhones or Android devices.  

Microsoft first announced its plans to offer Cortana for iOS and Android in May. Until then, it had been limited to Windows Phone. The company's goal was to provide an alternative way for Windows 10 users to connect their PCs with competitor smartphones.

The Cortana apps are now available on the Apple App Store and Google Play, though users can also download through the Windows 10 companion app. Devices must be running iOS 8 or Android 4.1.2 for the app to work.

[Steve Baller says Microsoft's mobile strategy "won't work".]

Microsoft is also making Cortana available on One Plus One devices powered by Cyanogen later in December, with the 12.1.1 Cyanogen update.

Both iOS and Android users will be able to access basic Cortana functions. In addition to asking questions, they can set reminders, check the weather, and track packages, flights, and areas of interests stored in Cortana's Notebook.

However, there are some feature differences between the iOS and Android apps. Due to Apple's developer restrictions, Android users have access to Cortana capabilities that can't be integrated into the iOS app.

For example, Android users can prompt Cortana by saying "Hey Cortana" if they are in the Cortana app or Android home screen. Android users can also receive missed-call alerts and reply via text message on PCs running Windows 10 1511 or later.

With the Cyanogen version of Cortana, users can activate the digital assistant by saying "Hey Cortana" from any app or screen. Cortana on Cyanogen devices may also be used to toggle network modes, shut off the phone, or enter Quiet Mode, which silences all calls, notifications, and alarms.

While the most advanced mobile version of Cortana is still on Windows Phone, the development team promises more features will roll out to competing platforms in coming months.

"We start with some of the communication scenarios, and think about how we can do more of those," said Marcus Ash, Cortana program manager, to The Verge. Microsoft is exploring the potential for "task continuation," which would enable users to transfer information and continue jobs on different devices.

(Image: Microsoft)

(Image: Microsoft)

Beta testing for Cortana on Android first began in July. Microsoft updated the preview in August, giving users the option to access Cortana through a shortcut normally used to access Android assistant Google Now.

iOS testing for the Cortana app started in November. For both platforms, users who wanted to access the Cortana preview had to complete a survey, agree to serve as app testers, and receive an email linking to an app download.

The rollout of Cortana for iOS and Android is the latest instance of Microsoft demonstrating support for rival platforms. One of Redmond's broader goals for 2015 has been to put Microsoft services in the hands of as many users as possible -- regardless of their smartphone of choice.

Cortana has undergone major development in 2015, starting with its availability on desktops in Windows 10. Later in the year, Microsoft announced the Cortana Analytics Suite and the integration of Cortana and Power BI.

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Kelly is an associate editor for InformationWeek. She most recently reported on financial tech for Insurance & Technology, before which she was a staff writer for InformationWeek and InformationWeek Education. When she's not catching up on the latest in tech, Kelly enjoys ... View Full Bio

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NJ Mike
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NJ Mike,
User Rank: Moderator
1/29/2016 | 8:39:44 AM
Re: Smart
@Brian.Dean - The part with the reminder not reminding me on time brings back memories of Apple Maps.  About the time Apple Maps come out, I had bought an iPhone.  Because of those kinks in it, I used Google Maps instead.  I never used Apple Maps because I lacked confidence in its accuracy and I was happy with Google Maps.  My point here - sure it is new, but it has to be better than what is out there for people to switch.

And for the lack of "Hey Cortana" - that was removed from Android by design.  I sort of understand their reasoning, as I experienced the "problem" this created.  Right after I upgraded my laptop to Windows 10® I was trying out Cortana.  "Hey Cortana" triggered Cortana on both my laptop, and my cell phone which was sitting nearby.  A bit of an inconvenience, but not really.  In fact, I find the voice command more useful on my phone than laptop.

I like the idea of Cortana for Android, as it may help my smartphone work with my laptop, even if I don't have a Windows phone.  But it has to work (remind me on time) and be convenient to use (voice triggered on my phone).
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
1/27/2016 | 6:44:28 PM
Re: Smart
@NJ Mike, I agree the two points that you mentioned hold a lot of weight and a personal digital assistant will be graded by users through the ease at which these functionalities are completed.

Cortana is relatively new, Google Now and Siri have been around since 2012, and Cortana was released in 2014. Maybe, Cortana requires a little time before the developers manage to fix the issues.
NJ Mike
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NJ Mike,
User Rank: Moderator
1/26/2016 | 9:24:09 AM
Re: Smart
It would be great except for two things:

1) It don't work.  I have tried setting reminders and I've been reminded anywhere from 15 minutes before to a half hour after the time I needed to be reminded.  When I want to be reminded at 3:00 for something, I don't mean 3:15.

2) No "Hey Cortana".  Without the ability to activate it with my voice, why use it?  It's easier to say "OK Google" then to find the darn icon.  Not sure why they "added" that "feature".
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2015 | 11:19:31 PM
Re: Smart
Agreed, it is a great move by Microsoft and it is beneficial for Microsoft as well as consumers.

Personal digital assistants have a lot of potential. It might be comparable to the level of functionality that a search engine provides if not greater. However, if it had remained (still remains up to an extent) that a consumer's choice of Google Now, Cortana or Siri is dependent upon the hardware they purchase then, it will limit competition, innovation and the future potential of personal digital assistants.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2015 | 6:21:20 PM
Smart
This is a smart move by Microsoft. They are really no longer a platform company, though in enterprises they do offer compelling server tools. Even there, the movement to open source is pretty clear.

The proprietary battle has ended, and this means putting Microsoft products wherever they will be seen by the most eyeballs. That's the key metric now. 
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