Move over Siri, here comes a change. For the first time since its release in April 2014, Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-activated assistant, is finally available on smartphones other than Windows devices.
An unexpected move that speaks a lot about the newfound flexibility and willingness to abandon convention of Microsoft, the Cortana app works really well on Apple’s iPhone. However, it is not a Siri replacement. Rather, Cortana makes it obvious that there is enough room for two voices on the iPhone.
There are some major differences between Siri and Cortana. Both are able to fetch web-sourceable information such as sports scores and weather forecasts. However, because Siri is part of the iPhone’s operating system, it is the only voice assistant that can carry out commands at the touch of the home button. Additionally, on-phone functions such as turning on Bluetooth, sending text messages and emails or dialing phone numbers are Siri-only.
However, Cortana is able to do things that Siri presently cannot, though you will have to groom the app to make these benefits worthwhile. That’s because Cortana maintains a list of the preferences of the user – Cortana’s “notebook” – to make sure it is supplying relevant information to the user. Therefore, if you tell Cortana where you live, for example, it will display the weather when you open the app.
That’s not an especially groundbreaking feature, but there are others. For instance, if you give it shipping tracking numbers, Cortana will alert you about the status of your packages. Or, if you tell Cortana you like Indian food, when you ask it to find a place for lunch, it will probably serve up a place with curry or naan on the menu.
Cortana’s notebook presently has around 15 categories of information that users can customize to make Cortana smarter, including everything from the user’s favourite sports teams to their academic background. Consequently, Cortana is more like a real personal assistant than Siri, since it almost has a relationship with the user, learning preferences over time. The absence of similar functionality has been a frustration some Siri users have expressed about Apple’s digital assistant – when you ask Siri the same thing over and over again; it should better link that information with the owner of the phone. However, that’s not to say that the iPhone does not learn – iOS 9’s proactive intelligence calculates travel time to appointments based on traffic, suggests apps based upon times of day, and is even able to guess who is calling you by going through your email for unknown phone numbers.
Still, Siri has the ultimate advantage: Users are able to call for assistance just by saying “Hey Siri.” On an iPhone “Hey Cortana” doesn’t work, just like how Google Now’s “Okay Google” doesn’t work on Apple’s devices.
One group of iPhone users especially should add Microsoft’s Cortana to their smartphone: Those who work on a Windows PC. Seeing as Cortana is a cross-platform service, it shares users’ preferences and data over a wide variety of machines, from Apple iPhones and Android tablets to Surface computers. And since Microsoft’s smartphones haven’t exactly been selling like crazy, Windows users have appeared like they were halfway linked in a fully interconnected world.
So, make space for Cortana on your iPhone. Look at it this way: Cortana is your professional aide, and Siri your personal assistant. You deserve a total digital entourage.