Cortana Goes Globetrotting in European Alpha

Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant learns French, Italian, German and Spanish as it gets ready for a more global audience.

Cortana goes global

Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Apple's Siri and Google Now, is making its way to more markets, announced the company today. Before today, the Windows Phone 8.1 voice-enabled assistant has only been available in Australia, Canada, China, India, United Kingdom and the United States.

Now, Cortana is getting ready to take on more countries, specifically in Europe.

Marcus Ash, group program manager for Microsoft Cortana, revealed in a Dec. 5 blog post that Microsoft is "rolling out an update to the Windows Phone Developer Preview Program that makes Cortana available in France, Italy, Germany and Spain as an 'alpha'." Early adopters will notice that, like any newcomer, Cortana will need some time to get acclimated to her new surroundings.

"Alpha means that Cortana is new to these countries, most of the features in the beta version are available but some are missing or coming soon," Ash wrote. Features like flight-tracking are currently unavailable in the new regions, and transit information is limited to major metropolitan areas until Microsoft can glean more data.

Ash explained Microsoft's decision to limit the alpha to the Windows Phone Developer Preview Program by stating that the company requires "help from the community to use and speak to Cortana in order to improve the speech and language recognition models for each of the new languages."

Since Cortana's official debut at this year's Build developer's conference, Microsoft used the technology to showcase the company's machine learning expertise.

Named after the popular AI character in the Microsoft's Halo video game series, the Bing-powered virtual assistant continually "learns" about the phone's owner to deliver reminders, time-saving trip recommendations and personalized updates that are tailored to his or her interests. Cortana also "stars" in a series of television commercials that pit Apple's Siri against Microsoft's tech, highlighting the latter's ability to engage in relevant, context-aware interactions.

"By working with her, you will help to improve her conversational understanding and also help us improve her intelligence—the breadth of answers she can provide and the categories she's aware of—so she can truly help you throughout your day," continued Ash.

Like Cortana's counterparts in China and the United Kingdom, the new European versions are hip to local attitudes and customs.

Microsoft has "worked hard to tailor Cortana's personality in each language (with local chit chat and jokes) to make her more locally and culturally relevant (i.e., make sure she fits in)," Ash wrote. "Cortana will also show European football (or as we Americans call 'soccer') league data, including Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and La Liga."

Meanwhile, the company is rumored to be readying Cortana for her tablet and desktop debut. In June, leaked screenshots of a Windows technical preview contained multiple references to Cortana, indicating that Windows 10 may ship with Cortana. Windows 10—Microsoft elected to skip over Windows 9—is expected to arrive next year.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...