Build 2017 saw a rejuvenation in a number of key areas for Microsoft, many of which have little or nothing to do with consumers. Cloud computing and enterprise licensing might be popular subjects at the Build developer event, but they make for dreary dinner conversation. Not so with Cortana, the artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant that Microsoft continues to pump new features into.
For good reason, as it turns out. In May, Microsoft announced Cortana has more than 145 million users, around a third of the total 500 million users that Microsoft says have upgraded to Windows 10. As a result of that support, Microsoft continues to open Cortana’s capabilities to other developers in the form of Skills, including a recent Fitbit integration.
With Cortana’s new Fitbit skill, users can stay up to date on their fitness activities as well as their health and fitness goals. Just say, “Hey Cortana, ask Fitbit how am I doing today?” and you’ll have access to all the relevant data you need to stay motivated. Cortana can keep you updated on all aspects of your health, including how many minutes you’ve been active, how well you slept, how many calories you’ve burned, and even how much water and food you’ve consumed. You can log nutrition information with simple voice commands, and also check to see how your performance compares to that of your friends.
By programming Cortana with a Skill, software makers can allow Windows 10 users to ask questions and send commands to their favorite apps in plain language. The Cortana Skills Kit was made open for public preview a couple months ago, and any app developers in the United States can download and push a Cortana Skill to the Bot Channel to try it out on the desktop and mobile versions of Cortana.
Senior product marketing manager Laura Jones showed off the new Skills integration in a brief demo during the Build 2017 keynote. Cortana was able to integrate with a number of different Windows apps, laying out events for the day, and then letting Jones know about a flight and hotel for an upcoming vacation. Cortana also benefited from understanding context, sending reminders to the car, or office, and dialing Jones into a meeting when traffic caused her to run late.
Upon arrival, Cortana understood and ended the call, switching over to the meeting software automatically. The natural integration of Skills with both Teams and third-party applications allows users to interact with specifics apps without needing to point to them, or ask for them by name — Cortana just understands.
Microsoft has plans to take Cortana into new places as well. Harman Kardon’s Invoke speaker made some noise in the last few days with full Cortana integration built into its sleek, wireless shell. It will not be the last to check that box off, with HP signing on to produce an unannounced Cortana-powered device, and Intel jumping on board to produce reference platforms for even more gadgets down the road.
Microsoft’s updated numbers on Cortana usage help explain some of the bold new places that the Redmond, Washington company has been pushing it into. The Windows team has been very responsive to user feedback, as well as that anonymous telemetry that many users unknowingly, or knowingly, opt into. If users are looking for more, and better, ways to utilize the voice commands in Windows 10 and on Windows Phone, who are we to argue?
Update: Cortana’s latest skill comes in the form of a Fitbit integration.
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