Fans of Google's Android operating system now have an additional choice of digital assistant, thanks to Microsoft. With Cortana for Android users can now install Redmond's digital assistant in place of Google Now.
Microsoft released a private beta version of the Cortana digital assistant for Android last month to allow for testing, and the service is currently available only to users in the US and China.
The latest version of the beta allows Android users to replace the Google Now shortcut by pressing and holding the home button to activate Cortana instead.
Following in the footsteps of Apple's Siri digital concierge, as well as Now, Cortana was developed to help Windows users find things on a PC, tablet or smartphone, manage a calendar, track packages, find files, and hear jokes.
Microsoft says the more someone uses Cortana, the more personalized the experience will be. Users can set Cortana to hear them anytime they say "Hey Cortana," although that feature is not available for Cortana on Android at this time.
Cortana uses Microsoft's Bing search engine service. It could help the company make some headway in the online search market, which Google currently dominates. (Siri uses software from Wolfram Research to generate results.)
While Microsoft and Yahoo own about 6.5% of the $81 billion global search market, Google has a far more robust 54% of the market all to itself, according to a 2015 forecast by eMarketer.
In addition to bringing Cortana to Android, Microsoft is working to make its other applications and services more available to users of rival platforms, including Apple.
Last week Microsoft rolled out a new batch of apps for Apple Watch and Android Wear, with the newest wave of wearable productivity apps bringing Outlook, Wunderlist, and Yammer (a quick notifications service) to Apple Watch; OneNote to Android Wear; and Microsoft Translator to both devices.
The new Translator app for Android Wear and Apple Watch supports 50 languages and lets users browse recently used phrases or pin commonly used phrases and settings to the watch screen.
Aside from apps for wearable devices and Cortana for Android, Microsoft recently released software that could help programmers simplify bridging the gap between Windows applications and apps for Apple's iOS mobile platform.
Windows Bridge for iOS, also referred to as WinObjC, is a Microsoft open source project that provides an Objective-C development environment for Visual Studio and Windows.
The iOS bridge supports both Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 apps built for x86 and x64 processor architectures. Soon it will add compiler optimizations and support for ARM, which adds mobile support.
Microsoft also recently announced a partnership with Dell, Samsung, and a slew of other manufacturers that will place cloud-based Office 365 apps, which include email, calendar, videoconferencing, and documents onto devices running Android.Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio