Science and Tech


Microsoft to Launch 'Siri' Competitor Named 'Cortana'

"Cortana," which takes its name from the Halo video game series, will receive voice commands to call contacts, pull up apps and search the Internet.
Posted at 7:07 PM, Mar 03, 2014

Looks like we're one OS closer to Spike Jonze's Her. According to The Verge, Microsoft is rolling out a new digital assistant dubbed “Cortana” in April.

The personal assistant will replace Bing voice search on Windows Phones and compete directly with Apple’s Siri and Google Now. “Cortana” is named after the glowing blue computer interface from Microsoft’s Halo video game series.


Looking at initial images, it appears Cortana will stay blue. The Verge writes it will show up as a dot on users’ phones. Hmm, sounds similar to another digital helper.

And that’s not the only similarity Cortana will have to competitor Siri. Cortana will also be able to call contacts, address you by a nickname and schedule events at the turn of a phrase.

But, already late to the party, Cortana is bringing a few unique features, including individual app controls, a “Notebook” function which allows users to customize Cortana’s access to their information and contextual clues meant to beef up responses.

Microsoft’s partnerships with sites like Facebook and Yahoo could potentially allow it to localize queries and create custom notifications. This differs from Google Now, which relies solely on Google’s independent search.

In an internal memo last year, ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer outlined his philosophy, saying “When it comes to life’s most important tasks and events, we will pay extra attention. The research done, the data collected and analyzed … are all amplified for people during life’s big moments.”

Of course, we’d understand if the tech world was already wary about Cortana. Microsoft’s few attempts at a computer assistant haven’t been the smoothest, like 1995’s Microsoft Bob.


Bob was the company’s attempt at creating a helper system for PC newbies. But instead of helping, Bob was criticized as being clunky and inconsistent. Time called it “expensive and overly cutesy.”

“Oh God. Man, that’s professional. We’ve got a graveyard on the right.”

The launch of Cortana might be the start of a more complete look at search by Microsoft. PCWorld says the company is developing a huge repository of information called Satori, "a Big Data version of the Bob concept" designed to be the backbone of Bing and Cortana.

But Halo fans might want to curb their enthusiasm as Microsoft could still change Cortana’s name before release at next month’s Build Conference in San Francisco.