Microsoft is releasing a test version of its Cortana digital concierge for Apple's iOS platform. This follows a similar release for Google Android smartphones.
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Microsoft is making Cortana, its digital assistant and rival to Google's Now and Apple's Siri services, available to beta testers on Apple's iOS platform.
This test version of the Cortana app, which can accept voice commands, schedule calendar events reminders and alarms, and has the ability to track other useful information, is only available to a handful of users at present.
The app also gives users the ability to search Bing, get directions, get info on restaurants and movie and TV listings, track your interests, as well as open other apps.
The release, reported on Twitter and in an article on TechCrunch, follows Microsoft's launch of the beta version of Cortana for Android smartphones in August, which is also only available to a limited number of users.
In both cases, potential users fill out a survey, agree to serve as testers of the app, and then receiving an email with a link leading to a download of the app.
Since the original closed beta of Cortana earlier this year, Microsoft says it has made several improvements to the experience, including the ability to set Cortana as the destination for the home button press.
Microsoft is also busy making Office available to users of Android and iOS, and the company recently announced its Cortana Analytics Suite, launched in July, can be used with Salesforce.com.
The cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) combines Microsoft's Cortana voice interface with the company's Power BI technology and machine learning.
Used in conjunction with Salesforce and Alpine Metrics, the Cortana Analytics Suite promises a way to improve the management of sales processes through voice-based interaction and visual presentation.
According to Microsoft, Cortana Analytics Suite enables real-time recommendations, customer churn forecasting, fraud detection, and predictive maintenance, among other use cases. It also connects to Salesforce data and combines it with the necessary Web services to answer queries through visualizations that weigh a variety of factors, such as geography, probability, and history, among others.
Microsoft is looking to extend Cortana's reach even further, with plans to bring the digital assistant into the automotive world.
The announcement is part of Microsoft's larger "Windows in the Car" strategy, which is seen as a competitor to Apple's CarPlay technology and Google's Android Auto platform.
While Microsoft is broadening Cortana's reach, Apple is simultaneously working to deepen the user experience with Siri.
The company reportedly bought UK startup VocalIQ in September, which builds speech-processing technology. Its software is designed to facilitate more natural communication between humans and computers.
VocalIQ claims the most successful assistant will be a self-learning multi-domain system that can hold a conversation with people about hotel bookings, movies, restaurants, and music. Perhaps it will help Apple create such an assistant in Siri.
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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
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