How Cortana works in Windows Phone 8.1

By | October 3, 2014

Microsoft in what it has been describing as the “world’s first truly personal digital assistant,” has finally introduced Cortana, its answer to Apple’s Siri and Google Now. It will be available with the Windows Phone 8.1 update. Cortana will be the center piece of Windows Phone 8.1 and will be one of the biggest changes Microsoft has ever made to its mobile operating system.

In his blog post, Joe Belfiore, the corporate vice president of Windows Phone said “Powered by Bing, Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know you, builds a relationship that you can trust, and gets better over time by asking questions based on your behavior and checking in with you before she assumes you’re interested in something. She detects and monitors the stuff you care about, looks out for you throughout the day, and helps filter out the noise so you can focus on what matters to you.

A tap on the search button activates Cortana from anywhere, and it’s the fastest way to do almost anything. Multitasking might be the biggest weak point of a Windows Phone, but Cortana almost obviates the problem. Cortana will learn every little detail like where I live and work, and know what I like to read and listen to help me out; she can be full of useful information and recommendations. It’s all customizable, too, through a clever Notebook feature: I can choose what Cortana knows about me, my habits, my interests, and my contacts, and she acts accordingly.

Cortana is still in beta and will soon be available in the United States. It will then launch in China and the UK in the second half of 2014 before being released in other countries in 2015. Cortana is found on a Live Tile on your phone’s home screen and can also be activated by pressing the phone’s Search button for a second. Cortana will try to collect information about you, like your name and your hobbies when the first time you use it. From this information, and the number of personal online accounts that you allow it to access, it will furnish your with information.

Once Cortana knows about you, it will compile your preferences in what Microsoft calls a “notebook.” Cortana’s notebook can be subdivided into sections such as “interests,” “remind me,” “quiet hours,” “inner circle,” etc. What we like most about Cortana is its ability to understand natural language. There’s no need to chop down your queries to single phrases. Cortana interacts with third-party apps, a capability that is mostly absent in Siri. During Microsoft’s Build event, Belfiore demonstrated this by using Cortana to open a Facebook page, placing a call through Skype and adding a show to his Hulu Plus queue.

As with most virtual assistants, it’s not perfect. We expect that using this day in and day out would cause us to type in things more frequently, mostly to avoid repeating commands as our voice get louder and louder. However, having a voice you’ve grown accustomed to in Halo on your phone might be too good to pass up.

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