Will Cortana leave Google Now and Siri in the dust?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| April 3, 2014


With the big unveiling of Windows Phone 8.1 during Microsoft’s Build Developer Conference yesterday, we here at PhoneDog have had plenty to say about it. Yesterday I talked about how it felt like Windows Phone was finally catching up with some much needed features, our news hound Alex has been keeping us on top of the latest news, and my fellow Editor Evan pointed out that it might be a decent time to consider switching to Windows Phone if some of the new features coming to the platform have been missing for you up until this point. There are two really big features coming to Windows Phone 8.1, one of which is Action Center (or as many of us already know it, Notification Center) and the other, of course, is Cortana.


Cortana might be familiar to you for a lot of reasons at this point. Perhaps it’s because of all of the recent leaks regarding the addition of the virtual assistant to the Windows Phone platform, or perhaps it’s because you’re familiar with the Halo series of games, where Cortana was Master Chief’s own virtual assistant. Whether you’re familiar with Cortana at this point or not, I’m willing to bet it won’t be too much longer before you start hearing more and more about her, because from what it sounds like she’s got a lot to offer when it comes to being a smartphone virtual assistant.


Google Now and Siri have already paved the way for smartphone virtual assistants, so the idea on its own isn’t exactly anything new. However, as we have come to find out, both Google Now and Siri have their strengths and weaknesses, both very different from one another. For example, Google Now seems better at drawing information from the Internet (given that the entire system is backed by Google’s own massive search engine) while Siri is better known for performing integrated tasks from the phone itself (sending texts, making phone calls, etc.). Both sort of suck at recognizing “normal” phrasing for things, so you have to be very clear in what you want them to do.


Cortana, on the other hand, is said to be able to learn from you. She has a “notebook” of sorts, where she can make note of where you travel, what you like to eat, your favorite movie genre, and things like that. She can also, apparently, scan your e-mails and texts to learn from you (don’t worry, that’s optional in case it’s a little too personal for you). Cortana is also backed by Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing, so Cortana has a pretty extensive library of knowledge of her own, similar to Google Now.


What I like about Cortana so far, given what information I’m reading, is that she’s that perfect mix between Google Now and Siri, with a little more to offer. Not only will you seemingly have deep integration within the phone itself, like Siri, but you also have Google Now-like options given that she’s backed by Bing. Microsoft has also seems to be making an extensive effort to make the way you interact with Cortana more natural sounding. In the example given in a recent article by The Verge, you can use vague phrases like “my wife” or “my husband” when setting reminders or calling people.


“For instance, saying ‘Remind me the next time I call my wife that we need to talk about Kevin’ will create a reminder that is triggered when you next go to call your wife or she calls you.”


It sounds like something you would actually say to a real personal assistant, so it’s easy to come up with these phrases on the fly instead of having to know exactly what triggers these programs to make them work like you want them to.


I really like what I’m reading about Cortana, but of course, whether this new feature really works like it’s supposed to at this point is the real question. I haven’t been that big on virtual assistants at this point, although I find that I use Google Now (slightly) more than I used Siri. Perhaps Cortana will be the one to make me embrace virtual assistants. Will it leave Google Now and Siri in the dust? It certainly sounds promising, and although Cortana is a few years behind the others, the strides that Microsoft seems to be making to perfect this type of technology does seem fruitful. At this point, I can at least say that I’m rather eager to try Cortana out and see just how easy and seamless she is to use.


Readers, what are your thoughts on Cortana at this point? Is the feature something you’ve been keeping an eye on? Share your thoughts with us!


Image via Grabi