Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Story of Cortana

Among the many, many updates in Windows Phone 8.1, the OS has gained its own contextual, voice-based search assistant, Cortana. The very-connected Tom Warren has a look inside its development:

Rival services like Google Now dig deep into data from devices, and while that’s often useful it can also be irritating in the form of non-stop notifications, or just scary that the system knows so much about you. To avoid this, Microsoft spoke to a number of high-level personal assistants — yes, actual humans — and found one that kept a notebook with all the key information and interests of the person they had to look after.

That simple idea inspired Microsoft to create a virtual “Notebook” for Cortana which stores personal information and anything that’s approved for Cortana to see and use. It’s not a privacy control panel, per se, but a list of everything Cortana knows about you.

Sounds like an intriguing mashup between the personal flavour of Siri and the contextual learning capabilities of Google Now, but with more flexibility.

The headline of this article leaves much to be desired, though:

The story of Cortana, Microsoft’s Siri killer

Remember how the Zune was the “iPod killer”, and the Surface was supposed to be the “iPad killer”? To be fair, Tom Warren has never used either of those phrases before, but how Cortana is a “Siri killer” is never explained. It just is, apparently. It certainly appears more capable in many respects, but it’s hard to call it a “killer” when it’s a feature of a mobile OS with a relatively small user base.

Regardless, I’d love to get my hands on a phone running 8.1.