Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to ‘virtual assistant’ services like Apple’s Siri and Google Now is already making a huge impact on early adopters of the potentially revolutionary new service. Cortana is jam packed with exciting new prospects for both developers and end users—here are the top ten reasons why the new service will change the way you look at your devices forever.
1. Cortana helps you and your device drive safe.
Mobile devices are ubiquitous in modern life—many of us take our phones and tablets with us everywhere we go. The average US citizen spends three hours a day on their mobile, and some of that time is likely to be spent behind the wheel of a car. At present, a great deal of mobile experiences aren’t designed with this in mind, but Cortana looks set to change all that. Utilising natural language processing algorithms, the service will provide its users with the ability to send texts, emails and use GPS with their voice as they drive, just as easily as they would with a standard touch interface.
2. Cortana is a truly personal assistant.
Cortana is a personal assistant that can be fully customized to suit your needs. Frequent flier? Just let the service scan your emails, and any upcoming flight information will be picked up and transferred to relevant apps. Just need the occasional reminder about a one-off job? That’s taken care of too—say you tell Cortana, “remind me to ask my brother to lend me his car for the day,” then you’ll get a notification that gives you the option to call or text your brother’s number straight from your contact list. It’s the way that Cortana can use the information that you give it that makes it so powerful, and so intelligent. Microsoft has invested $15 million in Foursquare to improve Cortana’s Geo-fencing capabilities, allowing it to offer precise location-based notifications and reminders. Furthermore, future third party apps will have the ability to subscribe to a particular content, and have Cortana notify them when it seems relevant. For example, Cortana might see a birthday in an email, and update it automatically in calendar. This data will then be available for third party apps to use to better offer their services. The sheer amount of information that a smartphone can throw at a user can sometimes be a problem, and that’s the very thing that Cortana has been designed to remedy. Your personal assistant is there to separate what you need to know from what isn’t relevant.
3. Cortana boasts a game-changing API.
Cortana’s API is one of its biggest selling points at present—it’s powerful enough to run a huge range of applications, and it’s set to be available to the general public. It’s easy to integrate with any mobile, thanks in part to the crystal-clear documentation that Microsoft has provided to developers. Cortana’s API is already in use by all major Windows Phone applications, including Facebook, Hulu+, Wikipedia and more. We’re even seeing the launch of services like Onion.io, which use Cortana to help you automate your home with a minimum of effort. Using Cortana’s API, you’ll be able to use your device to control low powered devices; you’ll be able to lock and unlock doors, switch lights on and off and even control the temperature of your home.
4. Cortana will prompt the evolution of task-specific virtual assistants.
The hugely powerful API mentioned above is also expected to give rise to task-specific virtual assistants, designed to simplify our daily lives. A typical assistant would be able to take user questions and gets results from the back end, analyzing our input and taking action by using the natural language processing qualities of Cortana. In our industry, a lot of people are overburdened with repetitive tasks that involve a great deal of manual data entry—but Cortana-based voice assistants would be able to reduce such repetitive tasks. For example, one such task-specific virtual assistant might be given the responsibility of taking notes from a meeting; to this end it would know when the meeting would begin and end, take notes throughout and even deposit that information in a CRM, or other complex systems like work-order-management or mobile order processing.
5. Cortana will usher in a new era for television.
The television industry is one of the most promising sectors for voice-based integration. Hulu+ has already released an app based on the Cortana API that allows users to add film requests through their mobile device. These applications will even allow you to operate your TV without pushing a button. You’ll be able to turn it on and off, change channels, control apps, and even navigate the web simply by using intuitive voice commands. With the smart appliance market expected to reach an estimated $35 billion by the end of 2020, gesture and voice control certainly seems set to be the future of the way we interact with our television sets. Imagine a television that learns about you directly from your personal device, and can recommend you shows based on what your virtual assistant learns about your likes and dislikes. The entire experience of watching television will soon change completely, with aimless ‘channel-hopping’ being replaced by a stream of thoughtful recommendations from services like Cortana.
6. Cortana will add a human element to wearable technology.
The bulk of wearable technology available at present is built around gesture and voice control, usually because their small physical size leaves little to no room for a touch interface. The strengths of Cortana, in particular its excellent voice recognition, are a perfect fit for the way that we already interact with these types of devices, but that’s not the only benefit that Cortana brings to the table. The human element of a voice talking back to you could be incredibly beneficial to a wide range of wearable devices, particularly exercise trackers that seek to offer a similar experience to that of working with a personal trainer.
7. Cortana will help bring voice recognition to the mainstream.
While voice recognition has been growing in stature as a feature of consumer electronics over the past few years, industrial adoption of the technology has been somewhat slower. However, banking has proven to be one industrial sector that looks set to employ voice recognition on a large scale, with banks like USAA and Wells Fargo seeming to believe that it could be the future of customer service. Tests of a prototype voice-controlled application among bank employees have apparently proven to be very successful. With a conventional touch interface, a user has to go through numerous taps and drop downs just to get to the most basic of information. This can be easily replaced by voice-based interaction, wherein the user would simply speak to Cortana directly and be given the information they desire. With banks already working to migrate to voice-based applications as a part of an improved customer service initiative, Cortana will effectively be used as a security tool for identity verification. It could also help users solve common problems easily, cutting down on the amount of people who would otherwise have to call customer care help lines for a solution. As well as banking, healthcare is another sector that will undoubtedly be benefited by voice recognition technology. It is estimated that the average doctor spends half their time on paperwork—effectively cutting down on the time that they are able to spend with patients. Furthermore, there’s the fact that touch interfaces are rather unsuited to use by doctors, as most touch devices require an electron transfer from our fingers to the screen to register an input. Given that doctors typically wear surgical gloves or are otherwise unable to use their hands while they’re working, a smart, voice-based solution powered by Cortana would seem to be a simple but effective solution to an important problem.
8. Cortana will redefine advertising on mobile platforms.
Voice-based mobile advertisements are something that the industry have been very interested in for some time, and Cortana could well make them a compelling reality. Using the Cortana API, advertisers will be able to make their content far more engaging and personal, as well as the improvements that voice recognition will afford this sort of marketing. Voice-based advertisements will be able to start a conversation, which can then be used to educate a customer about their services and products with more of a human element than traditioinal advertising. It will also help advertisers to more accurately identify the gender of their customers—it is thought that this sort of technology could afford around 95% accuracy in identifying gender. Cortana’s voice recognition and user-centric learning will also help advertisers in gauging the mood of the user, and tailor the sort of ads that they will see accordingly. These voice-based ads offer the chance to start a real conversation with users, but they also offer brands the opportunity to establish a clearly defined voice with which they can interact with their userbase. Imagine a popular celebrity voice talking on your user’s phone about your service—wouldn’t that be interactive?
9. Cortana offers a unified user experience across all devices.
While Cortana is only currently available for Windows Phone, Microsoft has big plans to release it for all other mobile platforms. With it becoming more and more common for users to switch between different devices like smartphones and tablets, the demand for a unified user experience across all these different pieces of tech is very important for a service like Cortana. It’s proven difficult for some interfaces to offer a comparable experience through mobile, web, wearable and car based operating systems, but Cortana can do this quite easily. Providing the same experience to the user with device translation, keeping the user updated on their notifications between devices and connecting and maintaining fluidity of their work are just a few of the ways that Cortana excels in this type of functionality. As Cortana remembers preferences and user interests, it will ensure that all of these devices will remain highly interactive with their users, removing the clutter from daily lives.
10. Cortana will help developers put their apps on the map.
Cortana will also act as an app discovery engine. It has been said that many smartphone and tablet users are likely to use ‘20% of apps, 80% of the time’, which can be something of a problem for the smaller developer. Cortana will assist users in unearthing new apps that might otherwise remain ignored—a canny move that will undoubtedly prompt a widespread growth in the development of apps compatible with the Windows Phone.