Report: Windows Phone update to add Siri-like personal assistant

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The next revision of Windows Phone, due in April, will add Microsoft’s own version of Apple’s Siri, dubbed “Cortana,” a report claimed Monday. In addition, Windows Phone 8.1 will include notifications, putting it more on par with its rival mobile operating systems.

The Verge reported that both enhancements would be on display at the Microsoft Build developer conference next April, where it’s possible that the update could be released in some form.

Indigo, a personal assistant for Windows Phone.

By now, most consumers who own a mobile phone are familiar with Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now: both respond to user commands to send texts, look up information, and issue reminders that can be keyed to a time or a personal location. Both systems are also hurriedly working to mine the user’s contact database, calendar, location, and email to “know” and provide useful information before a user needs it, such as whether a flight you’ve booked online is on schedule, for example.

Microsoft has been notably absent from such conversations, however, since the company has never developed its own personal assistant application. Instead, third-party Windows Phone apps have stepped in to fill the void—Indigo, for example, as well as AskZiggy and Maluuba, all provide some of the personal assistant features that we’ve come to expect from our smartphones. Indigo even tries to have conversations, including jokes. (Each line you utter must be manually entered via a button press into Indigo, however, making the experience more like a push-to-talk or CB dialogue than anything else.)

In July, however, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer made his vision for search clear in a strategy memo he authored as part of the “One Microsoft” reorganization: 

Windows Phone GDR3 Update Microsoft

Windows Phone offers a bright, informative interface, but it can sometimes difficult to tell where the important information is.

“Our machine learning infrastructure will understand people’s needs and what is available in the world, and will provide information and assistance. We will be great at anticipating needs in people’s daily routines and providing insight and assistance when they need it. When it comes to life’s most important tasks and events, we will pay extra attention. The research done, the data collected and analyzed, the meetings and discussions had, and the money spent are all amplified for people during life’s big moments. We will provide the tools people need to capture their own data and organize and analyze it in conjunction with the massive amount of data available over the Web.”

Any personal assistant technology will undoubtedly be based on Bing, the search engine that Microsoft has expanded and repurposed to be the font of all knowledge within the Windows ecosystem. That engine is now powered by a technology known as “Satori”.

Stefan Weitz, Microsoft’s director of Bing Search, described an early prototype of how a Bing personal assistant might monitor an online chat, interjecting itself where the user might find it useful. “As you’re talking in IM, it’s analyzing the utterances,” Weitz said in July. “For something like ‘Hey, do you want to see a movie?’, it takes that utterance and automatically does the query for you.”

The Verge also reported that Windows 8.1 will include notifications, allowing users to swipe down and see various updates. The Windows Phone Live Tiles already present some of this information inside their own tiles, but a features like this would make Windows Phone even more accessible.

Microsoft hadn’t responded to a request for comment by press time.

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