Microsoft's 'Cortana' alternative to Siri makes a video debut

Microsoft's 'Cortana' alternative to Siri makes a video debut

Summary: A new leaked video appears to show off Microsoft's coming personal digital assistant, codenamed 'Cortana,' in action.


One of the main new features of Windows Phone 8.1 -- the personal digital assistant codenamed "Cortana" -- has made a brief, unofficial video debut.

The site posted a 2-plus-minute video clip to YouTube showing what seems to be Cortana in action. Though the "speaking voice" of Cortana isn't revealed, a few new tidbits are.

(Microsoft officials aren't commenting on anything to do with Cortana.)

Cortana, which is Microsoft's rival to Apple's Siri and Google Now, takes its codename from Cortana, an artifically intelligent character in Microsoft's Halo series who can learn and adapt. Cortana, Microsoft's assistant technology, likewise will be able to learn and adapt, relying on machine-learning technology and the "Satori" knowledge repository powering Bing.

Cortana will be an opt-in, not required, feature of Windows Phone 8.1. According to the new video, Cortana, unsurprisingly, will require users to sign in with a Microsoft Account to use the service. Once users have signed in, pressing the Bing search button will bring up Cortana as the default search engine on the phone.

Cortana initially ask users questions including their preferred nickname/name, prefered leisure activities and interaction styles and the like, according to the video. It will prompt users with sample questions and tasks they can ask Cortana to perform, such as "wake me at 7 a.m."

The Verge has reported previously that Cortana will store users' personal information in a "notebook" inside Cortana. And LiveSino.Net has posted the icons that pertain to Cortana activities which were discovered as part of the leaked, recently distributed Windows Phone 8.1 software development kit and emulator. These icons -- for things like weather, stocks, traffic, places, etc. -- provide some indication about the kinds of actions/queries which Cortana may facilitate.

Cortana is core to the makeover of the entire "shell" -- the core services and experience -- of future versions of Windows Phone, Windows and the Xbox One operating systems, from what I've heard from my contacts. Cortana will debut as part of Windows Phone 8.1, which is expected to be released to manufacturing in late March or early April. It's not clear (yet) when Microsoft will add Cortana support to its other Windows platforms.

Microsoft execs have been talking up Microsoft's plans for personal-assitant technology since 2011.

Topics: Big Data, Apple, Emerging Tech, Google, Microsoft, Windows Phone


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Still in beta, I know

    But boy that looks like a lot of work to set up compared to Siri.
    • Time

      Yes, some women take forever to get ready.
      Sean Foley
      • And

        ...coherently appear when the show is over?
    • Some of those questions seem to be personality based questions.

      I could definitely seem how that's helpful when the assistant is supposed to have a bit of a personality too. Also that could be extremely helpful for narrowing down some search results. I definitely don't mind a bit longer set up if it makes the experience more customized to me and enjoyable.
      Sam Wagner
    • Are you kidding?

      What do you mean, "a lot of work to set up"? You answer a few questions (like Siri) so that it knows how to personalize communication with you. If it knows your significant other and other similar info then a lot of your directions or queries can be shortcut. IOW, if this will result in a better user experience than Siri, then that's a good thing. Some folks will complain about everything.
      • No not kidding...

        There wasn't any setup involved with Siri or Google Voice like with Cortana. Also you seem to have to press twice to activate voice commands (once in the corner and then the microphone icon). Is that right or did I misinterpret the steps?
    • Seriously, was that supposed to impress anyone?

      M$ is a train wreck happening in slow motion.

      I give up on M$, I do not think they are going to turn things around, they are headed for a long drawn out departure.
      • So are you...

        ...and I'm willing to bet anything that MS will be around (AND in better shape, to boot) long, long, long after your grandchildren have gone.
        • Don't bet on a dead horse

          I was yesterday on a meeting about cloud with some MS evangelists and I can tell you they are in bad shape. I was really disappointed how much marketing and how many bad words there were about the competition. I don't know if this is the new Nadella direction of aggressive marketing (with the scroogle guy Mark Penn) or if it was just an accident but it was not pretty. I don't like this NEW Microsoft.
          • Wow you really

            do not have a grasp on MS - but nice try
        • MS is years behind in everything

          The only things going for them is their user base from the last decade and the fact that computers come with Windows pre installed. In the past, they could play catch up, but not now as nobody cares. If they did care, then Windows Phone would not be in this mess nor their tablets. Name every new technology that is driving commerce, they are all on Linux and OSS. Docker is the latest example. Hadoop and No SQL are examples from the past where MS tried to do stuff on their own re inventing or re implementing the wheel.
          • Wrong

            If you knew anything about MS, you wouldn't be making that statement.
      • Anyone who still uses M$ is living in the past

        Like Scott Hansleman said, this isn't your grandfather's Microsoft. but I guess haters will be haters...
        • foolish statement

          So 90%+ of the computer using world are living in the past?
          • He was talking about the $ in M$...

            He wasn't talking about people using MSFT stuff living in the past but people who still use "M$" to talk about MSFT are living in the past.
          • LOL - that was very good

            Bonus points for that one!
          • LOL - that was very good

            Bonus points for that one!
        • I agree, time to move on...

          Now we have options like Linux, Android and Apple.
          • "I give up on M$..."

            "...and I'll tell you about it repeatedly and at length."
          • ZZZZZZZzzzzzz....

            Same lame no knowledge response.