Before Google Now on Tap, Microsoft opens public beta of Cortana for Android

Microsoft is taking a shot across the bow of Google Android by broadening availability of Cortana, both to help users and to gain valuable user data.

After announcing Cortana for Android and iOS in May, Microsoft has moved its personal digital assistant service from a private to a public beta for the former platform.

On Monday, Microsoft made Cortana available in the Google Play Store, although its still in a beta state.

Image: Microsoft-News

Microsoft is touting how Cortana can set reminders, track flight information, search the web, and manage tasks, all though voice commands. If that sounds familiar, it's much like Google's own Google Now service; a staple available on most Android handsets and tablets, not to mention the Chrome browser across all desktop platforms. And like Google Now, Cortana can now be set as a default application.

Microsoft's timing should concern Google as this is clearly a shot across the bow to own the personal assistant space on Android.

Google has already announced improvements to its software with Google Now on Tap that will intelligently surface applications and information. But that's not available until a few months from now when Android 6.0, Marshmallow, arrives. Even worse for Google are reports that many key staffers on the Google Now team have left.

Microsoft has made a concerted effort to bring its apps and services to other mobile platforms in the face of low Windows Phone hardware sales. That's a smart move, but the bigger win would be for Cortana to gain strong uptake on Android because it would provide a vast array of user information to Microsoft while taking some of that advantage away from Google.

For now, Cortana is only publicly available for Android devices in the U.S, but Microsoft says it plans to bring Cortana to other regions in the future.