Microsoft is discontinuing Cortana consumer skills starting with Windows 10 20H1

Going forward, Cortana is all about productivity for Windows 10 users. But some consumer skills, like controlling music, will still be possible via Cortana apps for iOS and Android.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft's repositioning of Cortana has been a "journey," to use a favorite company euphemism. And its part of Microsoft's move to turn Cortana into more of an integrated productivity service rather than a traditional standalone digital assistant, some of its capabilities are going by the wayside.

In a February 28 blog post which largely reiterates Microsoft's intent to make Cortana more of a productivity aide, officials restated how Cortana will be changing as of the next version of Windows 10, a k a Windows 10 20H1/2004.

Starting with 20H1, officials said, "We've tightened access to Cortana so that you must be securely logged in with your work or school account or your Microsoft account before using Cortana, and some consumer skills including music, connected home and third-party skills will no longer be available in the updated Cortana experience in Windows 10."

Users still will be able to do things like control certain smart home devices and speakers -- including the Harman Kardon Invoke -- via Cortana but only using the Cortana apps for iOS and Android, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed when I asked. Oddly, users will not be able to do this using the new standalone Cortana app on Windows 10. If you have an Invoke speaker, which is powered by Cortana, and you want to keep using it, you'll need Cortana for iOS or Android. Windows won't be an option for controlling it at all, the spokesperson confirmed.

Microsoft's focus with Cortana is on productivity, going forward, which means the Cortana capabilities integrated into its Office apps and into the unified Microsoft Search will allow business users to see what's next on their calendars, retrieve specific files and add to-dos to their task lists. At the same time, Microsoft is continuing to allow Cortana to provide answers from Bing, set alarms and timers, adjust settings and tell users jokes.

Microsoft is going to require users to be signed in with work or school Microsoft accounts in order to use Cortana in the name of security. The more advanced productivity features of Cortana will be available only to U.S.-based users to start; those outside the U.S. only will be able to get answers from Bing and to "chat" with Cortana until some unspecified point in the future when Micorsoft is hoping to add more Cortana capabilities for international users.

Microsoft also is going to end support for Cortana for any versions of Windows which already have hit their end-of-service dates, as of its release of 20H1. And it will be turning off the Cortana services in the Microsoft Android Launcher by the end of April.

Update: For those wondering, the ongoing work between Amazon and Microsoft to integrate Alexa and Cortana, with Alexa handling more of the mundane consumer-focused queries often asked of digital assistants, is still happening.

Given Microsoft's publication of this blog post today, coupled with another earlier this week notifying IT pros that they can start pushing the latest preview builds using WSUS internally for test purposes, I'd say Microsoft's kick-off of the rollout of 20H1 could be any day now -- maybe as soon as next week.

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