An indepth look at Cortana, Windows Phone’s new assistant!


During, Microsoft’s Build Conference yesterday, The made several announcements such as the Windows Phone 8.1 and windows 8.1 Update 1. Microsoft released its voice assistant to the world, and their have named her ‘Cortana’, a name that comes from a Halo video game character. Cortana will be powered by Bing, Microsoft’s search engine together with collaboration and information from other web services like Yelp.

Cortana’s welcome screen

Cortana is deigned to look like a circle and its colour will resemble the accent color you set for your Windows Phone and Microsoft says they are working to improve on the gestures and voice tones when she is giving different messages for example, Giving you scores of your team winning and being beaten will sound and Cortana’s look will be different. I like this move where they are taking this assistant emulation to the next level but since the feature has been dubbed BETA, we just have to keep waiting for updates.


Cortana comes prebuilt into Windows Phone 8.1 and will come preinstalled on new WP 8.1 devices and come as an update on Windows Phones that will get the WP 8.1 Update this summer. Cortana is designed to have a notebook in which she stores your private information and just like an assistant she first asks you whether its you permit her to store this information. I mean every real life assistant carries a notebook with her Boss’ private information such as favourite places and her Boss has to permit or deny her access to some information.
This is a better move and Microsoft developers focused on this because other assistants like Google Now and Siri that track your information without your notice which might be creepy.

Cortana’s Notebook is stored on the cloud and acts like a settings page on Google Now but lets you remove or add information that you might want her to know or remove the information you don’t. Items in your notebook may include your favourite Football team, restaurant, birthday, Questions that she asks you the first time you ask her.

Cortana’s Note Book

Cortana displays notifications similar to the Tiles in Google Now that appear in the Notification centre in Windows Phone. These include soccer from your Football team, stocks, location based cards, weather, flight details and more a  feature we have already seen in Google Now.

Cortana goes ahead to highlight main phrases in your emails and text messages such as Flight K780 or Lets Meet at 2.30 am and asks you whether she should set reminders of appointments extracted from this text or give your more details on a Flight she found in your email messages.

Microsoft also boosts that Cortana understands your requests better by returning results based on whether your query was singular or plural. For example if you asked for the Best restaurant in Spain, Cortana will return only on Restaurant based on the highest rating by users on Yelp. However asking for the best restaurants in an area returns a list of the highest ranking restaurants in an area. This feature imitates a real-life assistant who can not give his boss a list of places when he asked for the best place to have coffee.

Cortana also knows when you are travelling and once you arrive in a new country, Cortana will greet you with weather details for the new country, Forex rates, and destination routes.

Cortana Travel Notifications
Cortana Travel Notifications

Cortana will allow third party app integration, other apps can get information from Cortana as well as share it with Cortana through a developer API just like rivals Google Now and Siri.

Cortana further acts like a guard to the Boss, in this case you by asking you for your quiet hours where she will snooze all notifications except a few people in your inner circles just like a real-life assistant know when her Boss is busy or resting and lets in only a few people. Cortana will let you choose notifications from a list of people you choose like your wife, hubby, nanny or Boss.

You can also ask Cortana to remind you to do something when a particular action is triggered for example you can ask Cortana to Remind you to ask your Mom about her dog when you Call your Mom or your when your Mom calls you. This will appear onto of the Call UI or on top of Live Tiles. This feature is really awesome because its just like your assistant telling you ‘when to do what’ properly.

Cortana remiders on Live Tiles
Cortana reminders on Live Tiles

Cortana which is in Beta will roll out to the US and UK in June and will gradually roll out to China and other countries after the Windows 8.1 update is rolled out to existing phones with WP 8 in June.

Well lets wait and see how it fairs with competition like Google Now and Siri

Image Credit: WindowsPhone Blog