Cortana has struggled to find a place in the competitive corners of virtual assistants. Others in the game like Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri are winning better positions based on their satisfactory responses to questions. And there is one more challenge, Cortana doesn’t have smart speaker or mobile operating system, and it lacks native access to two of the most common devices people use to speak with AI assistants.
Microsoft is looking for ways to improve the functionality of Cortana, the focus is to make it part of its 365 productivity software for the workplace, which sees applications like Outlook, Word and Powerpoint currently being used by 180 million monthly active users. Microsoft Corporate VP, Andrew Shuman, said: “We are really focusing on this experience, embedding Cortana across M365. That’s really the message.”
The idea has been to find Cortana a place among its counterparts using the already existing number of Microsoft users. But that’s after some adjustments have been made and new features introduced to give users a new experience.
Cortana can now read your email summaries and send quick reply responses in Outlook. The AI assistant can now schedule meeting and deliver daily schedule and task rundown. Excel now supports natural language queries, enabling users to ask questions about Excel data, and Cortana can be used as coach. Email briefings from Cortana in Outlook can suggest focus time.
Apart from the choice of using Cortana as coach, there is a presenter coach launched last month by Microsoft, a PowerPoint service that listens to presentations and then provides feedback on pace, use of inclusive language, and repetitive use of mannerism like “basically” and “umm.”
Cortana can now transcribe meetings, perform voice email playback, find and automatically remind you about tasks in emails and schedule meetings.
At its Ignite conference, Microsoft announced a number of new features that help Cortana to become even more useful in your day-to-day work, all of which fit into the company’s overall vision of AI as a tool that is helpful and augments human intelligence. (TechCrunch)
But apart from any first-party hardware or mobile operating system of its own, that means, outside Windows 10, Cortana is likely going to live or die in a multi-assistant capacity, alongside the virtual assistants that are its direct competitors.
Despite the upgrades that give Cortana a chance to compete, there is still a challenge. The double-down on integration with Microsoft software doesn’t address the fact that the company missed its chance on hardware. This means, there is no first-party Microsoft smart speaker with Cortana, like, for example, the Google Nest or Amazon Echo. Harman Kardon Invoke was the only speakers that have Cortana inside, but it didn’t sell.
So speaker has been a hardware challenge that Cortana has found difficult to get around, even though Microsoft CTO, Kevin Scott told VentureBeat that Cortana doesn’t need a smart speaker to succeed as an AI assistant and can instead rely on legacy strongholds like Windows 10, reality disagrees.
A year ago, Microsoft released Surface headphones, and recently, earbuds too were released. But they are devices marketed to keep professionals busy, not home dedicated devices.
Shuman also told VentureBeat about Cortana’s focus on enterprise applications, Cortana’s future in hardware, and the new Voice Interoperability Initiative to make a multi-assistant world.
“I echo Kevin’s point about ambient devices, I think we are going to continue to work on our Amazon partnership and thinking a lot about how M365 users who have an Amazon speaker can get a great experience, as we have that in beta already today and we’ll do more there,” Shuman said.
There is also the challenge of less-than-clear hardware message by Cortana, and Shuman said Microsoft will find opportunities in mobile devices to fill the roles.
“We feel ever more convicted that getting ourselves into a great position on the mobile device you already have, you already trust with a lot of your data, but really being able to enhance that experience, because it is hard to do some stuff on the phone. That will be the way forward for us,” he said
Though there is rumor that AI assistant may be removed from the Microsoft Launcher for Android smartphones, Shuman said Microsoft is counting on mobile devices to move Cortana into viable position of competition.
But the success of an AI assistant may depend totally on existing market advantages, and it is believed to be the reason why Microsoft is focusing on leveraging mobile and PC use cases. The 180 million already existing users Powerpoint and Word is a huge market on its own, and Microsoft is trying to leverage on the numbers to put Cortana back on track.