Cortana may be a holographic AI in the Halo video games, but she may soon become an important part of Microsoft's efforts to improve its fortunes in the smartphone market.
The company's answer to Apple's Siri and Google Now, Cortana is expected to provide voice-enabled actions and contextual search capabilities. The Bing-powered technology was first spotted in June of last year when an app called zCortana appeared in a leaked version of Windows Phone 8.1.
Now, a clearer picture is emerging of what users can expect when Cortana arrives.
In his report for The Verge, Tom Warren wrote, "Cortana will replace the built-in Bing search feature, which is currently launched through a dedicated hardware key, and acts as a digital assistant with a mix of Siri and Google Now functionality," according to sources. The report also hints that Cortana won't look anything like her video game counterpart.
Instead of a blue-tinted hologram, Cortana will appear as a "circular animated icon with the hue of your selected Windows Phone accent color, and will have a personality not dissimilar from Apple's Siri." Her voice, however, may sound familiar. Jen Taylor, Cortana's voice actor in the Halo games, is reportedly providing her voice for Microsoft's digital assistant.
"Cortana will be backed by data from services like Bing, Foursquare, and others to give it some of the contextual power of Google Now," added Warren. Microsoft announced on Feb. 4 that it had invested $15 million in Foursquare and inked a licensing deal with the social location service.
In a statement, the company boasted, "When you use Microsoft devices powered by the Windows and Windows Phone operating systems and products like Bing, places will be enhanced by Foursquare—to provide contextually-aware experiences and the best recommendations of any service in the world."
Cortana will also feature a Notebook feature that collects and accesses information including location data, personal data, reminders, contacts and behaviors. Privacy controls will enable users to edit or delete information stored in the Notebook. Cortana will also ask before storing information in the Notebook.
"Cortana will then use this information to provide answers to search queries by voice or text, and provide suggestions, alerts, and reminders," Warren said. The technology can also be used to suppress notifications and exempt an "inner circle" of contacts while do-not-disturb is enabled.
Cortana, along Siri and Google Now, may soon face competition from another tech company: Yahoo.
While Yahoo has no mobile device division to speak of, the Web and online services company is reportedly working on a digital assistant of its own. The company recently made a $10 million grant to Carnegie Mellon researchers and gave them access to its real-time services to help advance the university's InMind mobile assistant technology.