Microsoft may have formally announced the various versions of Windows 10, tailored for consumers, business and mobile. But buried in the fine print is an important detail: One of the key features, Cortana, won’t be immediately available everywhere Windows 10 is sold.
Microsoft outlined the six major versions of Windows 10 in a blog post on Tuesday. They'll include Windows 10 Pro, Windows 10 Home, and Windows 10 Mobile, plus the enterprise versions: Windows 10 Enterprise, Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise and Windows 10 Education.
Under Windows 10 Home, the very first “new innovation” that Microsoft corporate vice president Tony Prophet listed was the Cortana digital assistant, along with the Edge browser and universal apps. Windows 10 Pro will also incorporate Cortana, as will Windows 10 Mobile, where the digital assistant first launched as a feature of Windows Phone.
But buried at the bottom of the blog post is a major caveat: “Cortana will be available on Windows 10 at launch in select markets.”
What this means: Windows 10 will launch in 190 countries and 111 languages, but it's one thing to translate dialog boxes and another thing to understand spoken language on the fly, as Cortana must. When the Windows Phone 8.1 Update launched last year, Cortana worked in Australia, Canada (English), France, Germany, India (English), Italy, and Spain, as well as the United States. Microsoft said that it was bringing the technology to China and the U.K. as well. But that list still excludes a number of major markets—Brazil, Russia, and Japan, to name just a few. Cortana's apparently going to need some time to catch up.
Many questions for overseas users
Microsoft’s Cortana rollout within the United States began with Windows Phone, then moved to Windows 10 phones and PCs. Over time, those platforms have begun to talk to one another. It’s not clear whether those emerging regions will endure the same staggered rollout, or receive a holistic experience tying together Windows 10 Home, Business, and Mobile from day one. The odds seem to lean toward a staggered rollout, though.
Furthermore, while Cortana works well on Windows Phone, it’s still not the quick, efficient digital assistant I expect in the desktop version of Windows 10.
To be fair, Microsoft isn't alone in delaying spoken language support for specific regions. Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, noted that Apple's Siri supported English in iOS 5.0, in 2011, while support for Brazil, Russia, and Sweden, among others arrived just this year in iOS 8.3.
"Teaching a digital system a new language is incredibly complicated," Miller said. For overseas users where Cortana isn't supported, Microsoft will simply sell Windows 10 on its other features, such as the Edge browser, he said.
For now, Microsoft’s left customers with a number of questions. A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment further, noting that Microsoft would soon provide more details around Cortana and the features of each version of Windows 10.