Microsoft Is Eyeing Cortana App for iOS and Android

The Cortana personal assistant was introduced by Microsoft in early 2014 to counter Apple's Siri. Now Microsoft wants to expand Cortana's use for iOS and Android users.

Microsoft Cortana

Microsoft is working to build iOS and Android app versions of its Cortana personal digital assistant software—its answer to Apple's Siri digital assistant—that could be ready for release next fall.

The company has been at work on an "advanced version" of Cortana that has been aided by research from artificial intelligence project that Microsoft internally calls "Einstein," according to a March 13 report from Reuters.

Stand-alone app versions of Cortana for iOS and Android will be available for smartphones and tablets sometime after Microsoft adds a new and improved version of the Cortana services into the upcoming Windows 10 operating system this fall, according to the article.

Cortana was introduced to Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system early in 2014 to help the company keep up with the popular Siri service that's integrated into Apple's iOS mobile operating system.

"This kind of technology, which can read and understand email, will play a central role in the next roll out of Cortana, which we are working on now for the fall time frame," Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research and a part of the Einstein project, told Reuters.

"We're defining the competitive landscape ... of who can provide the most supportive services that make life easier, keep track of things, that complement human memory in a way that helps us get things done," Horvitz told Reuters.

Cortana's name should be familiar to fans of the Halo video game series on Microsoft's Xbox gaming system. Cortana is a holographic AI construct that figures prominently in the game's universe, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

Apple thrust mobile personal assistant technology into the spotlight when Siri made its debut on the iPhone 4S. Lauded for its technical innovation at launch, Siri was also criticized for its hit-or-miss real-world performance and penchant for humorous gaffes. Siri also sparked security concerns, causing IBM to boot the tech from its campuses.

Siri, which also appears on the iPad, continues to improve as more users interact with it and Apple tweaks the feature. In an example of the sometimes-tangled rivalries between tech giants, Siri now defaults to Bing instead of Google in Apple's latest iOS operating systems.

Google has not stayed behind, and has been steadily refining its mobile OS voice control capabilities in an effort to make them an integral and seamless part of the Android experience.

In February, Microsoft announced that Cortana will become an integral part of the user experience when the Windows 10 desktop operating system is released this fall. Like its current smartphone-based counterpart, the software will grow more familiar with users as time passes and tailor recommendations based on their preferences and day-to-day interactions, according to Microsoft.

Users may notice subtle, but important differences interacting with Cortana, depending on whether they are using a smartphone, a tablet or a desktop PC.

The Bing-powered assistant features natural-language input, both spoken and typed, and can search the Web, OneDrive cloud storage accounts and content stored on a device to help users find the information they're looking for. Despite these far-reaching capabilities, Microsoft worked to ensure that Cortana respects boundaries by putting users in control over what she jots down in her virtual notebook.

In December 2014, Microsoft announced that Cortana is in the process of being built for additional languages in France, Italy, Germany and Spain as part of alpha development projects. The Windows Phone 8.1 voice-enabled assistant so far is only available for use in Australia, Canada, China, India, the United Kingdom and the United States.