How Microsoft's Cortana Assistant Shapes Up Against Apple's Siri

1 - How Microsoft's Cortana Assistant Shapes Up Against Apple's Siri
2 - Fun Fact: The Name 'Cortana' Comes From Halo
3 - It's Already in Action on Windows Phone
4 - It's a Similar Experience to Siri
5 - Bring On the Bing
6 - Notebook Stores Areas of Interest
7 - There's a Bit More Privacy Control
8 - Cortana Knows What's Going On--to a Degree
9 - There's Full Integration With Other Services
10 - Updates Are Coming Fast and Furious
11 - Yes, There Are Siri-like Easter Eggs
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How Microsoft's Cortana Assistant Shapes Up Against Apple's Siri

by Don Reisinger

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Fun Fact: The Name 'Cortana' Comes From Halo

So where does the name "Cortana" come from? Those who play video games will know that it comes from the "Halo" franchise. Cortana is the virtual assistant of sorts in that game that helps players and the in-game character Master Chief complete the titles.

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It's Already in Action on Windows Phone

Cortana is available now on Windows Phone 8.1. That's important. Microsoft has been working diligently on the technology and has found ways to make it even better over the last several years. While it launched in the U.S. initially, Microsoft is starting to roll it out internationally.

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It's a Similar Experience to Siri

Those who have used Siri will find the Cortana experience to be somewhat similar. Cortana allows users to interact via voice with the virtual assistant to have questions answered or information shared. Microsoft isn't breaking new ground in terms of how Cortana works, but the company might argue that it's breaking new ground in its functionality.

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Bring On the Bing

Unlike Google Now, which is similar to Cortana and relies on user interaction to work, Microsoft's platform isn't relying upon Google search to fetch data. As one might expect, Cortana uses Bing to find information around the Internet and deliver relevant results. Don't expect that to change anytime soon.

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Notebook Stores Areas of Interest

Cortana's Notebook feature is arguably one of its most important. The feature allows users to store information about themselves in Cortana for use later on. Cortana uses that information to keep track of what users like and what they've done in the past to make predictable decisions in the future. It's a neat feature that's sorely lacking in Siri.

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There's a Bit More Privacy Control

Microsoft has added several privacy control features to Cortana so it doesn't intrude upon a person's own security. Cortana is, after all, designed to track what users are doing and provide a predictable response, location-aware information and other useful data in the moment. However, Cortana's functionality can also be trimmed down to the basics if users want to keep their privacy in check. While Microsoft has made clear that it's not collecting or using Cortana-collected information, that the company has added controls over the feature is a nice addition.

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Cortana Knows What's Going On--to a Degree

Cortana goes above and beyond understanding what a person really cares about and delivering relevant information. For example, if Cortana is given information on favorite places and a user tells it where he or she is going, the assistant after analyzing traffic can provide information on when the user should leave to get there on time. She also examines the user's calendar to provide insight into travel information before he or she even leaves. Over time, Microsoft argues, Cortana is capable of learning more and more about the user and delivering further relevant information. In other words, she knows what's going in your life.

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There's Full Integration With Other Services

Microsoft has rightly decided against keeping all of Cortana's features centered on its own slate of services. Instead, third-party services are fully supported, including sites like Wikipedia and social services like Foursquare. Microsoft isn't totally controlling Cortana, which is nice to see.

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Updates Are Coming Fast and Furious

Although Microsoft made some headlines recently with an update to Cortana that added full in-car control and better natural-language recognition, like Siri, Microsoft claims to be updating Cortana quite often with small tweaks to make it better. The big question now, though, is whether Apple will respond with its own slate of new features in Siri to match what Cortana has done.

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Yes, There Are Siri-like Easter Eggs

When Siri first launched, users would ask it all kinds of questions and get wacky answers. Like Siri, Microsoft has built in several interesting "Easter Eggs" into Cortana that makes interacting with it all the more entertaining. In fact, Cortana seems to have a bit of a personality, providing more conversational talk than Siri with users and even singing. Try out Cortana to see just how far the Easter Eggs go.

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