Like them or not, voice-activated assistants have become a standard on smartphones, and now desktops, with the inclusion of Cortana in Windows 10 and Siri in MacOS Sierra. They allow us to control our devices hands-free, offer a speedy alternative to typing queries, and they feel like the future.
So which one’s best for you? Cortana, Siri, and Google Now all generally do the same thing, but each has its own set of quirks that make it unique. Let’s take a look at how they measure up against one another.
On Windows Phone, you can use Cortana to make calls, send messages, set reminders, take notes, recognize music, find great restaurants, check your calendar, and more. The Windows 10 version of Cortana adds a few more features, such as the ability to search files by context — i.e. “Hey Cortana, show me presentations I’ve worked on in the past week.” The Windows 10 Anniversary update adds even more functionality, including accessibility from the lock screen and the ability to save and recall information, like where you’ve parked for example. All of this is done using natural language.
While you can store specific bits of information now with Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant is constantly analyzing your interactions to learn more about you. This information is stored in something Microsoft calls the “Notebook,” which includes the places you like to go, people you care about, your preferred quiet hours, and things you might be interested in, among other things. You can even edit it if you like.
Cortana can also read your emails, track your location, watch your browsing history, check your contact list, keep an eye on your calendar, and put all this data together to suggest useful information, if you allow it to. Cortana is designed to recognize context, so it should be able to understand followup requests, and you can phrase things in different ways and still expect a useful answer. You can also type your questions or requests, if you prefer to not speak out loud.
Cortana is not limited Microsoft’s apps, either, as the it can access third-party content as well. For example, asking how many calories are in a banana would not only return the answer, but the option to add that food to your calorie tracker, too (if it supports Cortana). The assistant can also add something to your Hulu queue, or check out a friend’s Facebook feed. More and more third-party connectivity is being added all the time.
Microsoft has big plans for Cortana in the future, including using her voice recognition for something the company calls “conversation as a service,” which will combine Cortana’s listening abilities with bots to help you get things done. Think a conversation over Skype where you’re discussing a business trip. Cortana could automatically search for flights and hotels for you as it learns about your trip.