Cortana, Microsoft’s Xbox-themed digital assistant, is reportedly coming to Android and iOS as a standalone app. A new Reuters report says Cortana will come to Microsoft’s rival mobile platforms after the digital assistant’s debut on Windows 10 later in 2015.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of Microsoft working on Cortana for non-Windows devices. In November, Microsoft chief experience officer Julie Larson-Green said during a meeting with reporters that Cortana could come to other platforms.
The story behind the story: With Windows 10, Microsoft will put Cortana on the desktops of many people who are using Android and iOS on mobile. Extending Cortana’s reach beyond Microsoft’s mobile platform, therefore, is key to making Cortana useful to Windows users. To be effective, any digital assistant requires access to all kinds of information, including important data pulled from phones such as location history and web searches. Since most mobile devices users are definitely not using Windows Phone—especially in the U.S.—it makes sense that Microsoft is looking to bring Cortana to where its users are.
Bringing a marquee Windows feature to other platforms also emphasizes, yet again, the shifting priorities for Microsoft as it looks to become a truly cross-platform software provider.
Reuters also says Microsoft is planning some improvements to Cortana for the fall, pulled from a company artificial intelligence research project called Einstein.
It’s not clear what kind of improvements Microsoft is planning, but from the Reuters interview with Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research and part of the Einstein project, it sounds like the focus is on better understanding of context within email. Cortana already parses email to surface reminders for, say, an upcoming flight. If the Cortana improvements work out as Microsoft is hoping, however, the digital assistant could become better at predicting a user’s needs, similar to Google Now.
If Cortana does come to Android and iOS it won’t be the first time we’ve seen a digital assistant ship as its own app. Apple’s Siri began life as a third-party iOS app that was later acquired by the company, and Google currently offers a stripped down version of Google Now on iOS.