Microsoft tips that family music sharing is next for Cortana, OneDrive

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Microsoft said Tuesday that it plans to allow users to pool and share music among several users in the near future, although it was vague on how it would do so.

That promise was hidden in a blog post outlining the road to Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, that is at the heart of its Windows Phone 8.1 experience and is slowly moving to Windows 10

As Microsoft's Windows interface evolves, Cortana will begin to replace general search functions, stepping in when users search for a particular file. The assistant already serves as a user interface of sorts for setting reminders and asking fact-based questions, competing with Google’s Google Now and Apple’s Siri—the assistants on those respective platforms.

All three digital assistants already allow users to control digital music playback; with Microsoft, for example, users can ask Cortana to play a Rolling Stones song. And, if a user owns the selected music in Xbox Music, the song will play. Microsoft, however, suggested it will go a step further.

“What else is coming? We’re looking forward to helping people achieve productivity in communal scenarios,” Marcus Ash, the Group Program Manager for Cortana and Search on the Windows PC, Phone and Tablet Group, wrote. “For example, you may have several PCs at home, and you’re all sharing and storing music with each other. We want Cortana to help you easily find the music you want and play it from any of the devices, throughout your home, across PCs, phones, tablets and speakers, in a group setting. More to come on that very soon.”

That goes a bit beyond what Joe Belfiore, the corporate vice president of the Operating Group at Microsoft, said last month at the Windows 10 launch. “That’s because in about a month or two months, we’re going to add support to our system for you to put your music collection in OneDrive and have your collection stored in the cloud,” he said, according to a transcript of the event. “So you can make changes to your playlists or to your collection on any device and they’re automatically reflected on all your devices.”

Slight changes coming to Cortana’s user interface

Personally, I’d argue that Cortana isn’t quite as effective as Google Now, lacking the ability to zero in on answers to fact-based questions. Cortana certainly seems to be the most human of all three assistants, however, which includes Apple’s Siri technology. And that’s what Microsoft was striving for: as noted by Ash: “We didn’t want to build one digital assistant for everybody, we wanted to build one digital assistant for you,” he wrote. “Cortana learns you, knows you, and respects you.”

Ash wrote that a better understanding of users will bring with it a slightly different user interface for Cortana. “Cortana knows that when you’re on your phone, your interaction is generally going to be brief; when you’re on your PC, your goals are going to be in line with steady periods of productivity,” Ash wrote. “We’ve developed new visions and new scenarios meant to make life easier, and more fun, regardless of the device you’re using.”

Why this matters: There’s nothing preventing users from storing MP3 files in OneDrive, Dropbox, or any other cloud storage. But accessing them usually means clicking a single file and/or downloading it once again. Google allows you to store your own MP3s in the cloud; Apple also “matches” songs you’ve ripped in iTunes. Adding this capability would help Microsoft catch up to the other services.

What Ash seems to be saying, however, is that a family will be able to share songs, much in the same way that a family can share games on an Xbox One. Sure, you can maintain a communal server of music that anybody with the right password can tap into. And let’s face it: Doing a quick copy of your sister’s MP3 collection takes a few minutes. But it’s still a convenience that rival services don’t offer.

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