Cortana gets a new task to increase productivity

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Mumbai: Cortana is a virtual assistant from Microsoft that uses Bing search to perform personal tasks. And it has been around for over six years now. But there’s hardly anything to Cortana’s credit.

Except she being vaguely remembered as Microsoft’s voice-activated virtual assistant behind quiet a distant from Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri or even Google Assistant.

Cortana and Corporate tasks
Irrespective of the comparison with other virtual assistants, Microsoft has now decided to move Cortana on the corporate front.

The idea is to keep Cortana alive and employed in a way it helps users leverage and interact with Windows 10 OS platform, Microsoft 365, Outlook Mobile and Team app.

On the other side, Microsoft revealed it will discontinue supporting Cortana app running on iOS and Andriod based mobile devices next year. Also, Microsoft will end support for all third-party Cortana skills on September 7, 2020.

Perhaps, this does suggest that either Microsoft isn’t confident when it comes to mobile apps and devices or see no business value in the present scenario. Although, Microsoft was among the very few software players that had built their own mobile operating systems (OS) in the mid-90s.

Microsoft and mobile OS
Under Bill Gates’ leadership, the company had rolled out its first mobile OS — Windows CE 1.0 in 1996. Internally named as Pegasus, this mobile OS made its way into small form factor, handheld devices like small PCs, PDAs and laptop devices.

For Microsoft, this was a humble start and gradually its mobile OS gained traction. It supplied the latest mobile OS versions to handheld device makers / OEMs like HP, Compaq, Dell and Palm in late 90s. Later, Microsoft even supplied its mobile OS to handset makers including HTC, Sony, Samsung and Nokia.

However, Microsoft around 2012 had decided to come up with unified user experience across mobile and desktop platforms. It launched Windows 8 in October same year and the new OS left a mark on the market.

Microsoft and Nokia’s smartphone business
Nokia showed more interest in Microsoft’s new mobile OS to such an extent that it went ahead and launched Windows 8 OS based new smartphone range – Lumia 920.

This was also the time when Nokia lost confidence in its Symbian OS against Windows OS smartphones.

The growing closeness and camaraderie between these two companies that turned a business deal. Microsoft announced its plans to acquire Nokia’s smartphone business in 2013.

Under CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft acquired Nokia’s phone business for $7.2 billion in September 2013. It was one of the biggest acquisition for Microsoft and provided the company with direct entry into the handset business globally.

Microsoft Windows 8.1 and birth of Cortana
Microsoft completed Nokia’s phone business acquisition in 2014. The same year, it launched Windows 8.1 – a major OS upgrade that came with Cortana’s debut.

It was for the first time, Microsoft had come up with its voice-activated digital assistant that offered voice-based search on Windows Phone.

With the new smartphone business under its belt coupled with Cortana, Microsoft had pretty much all the essentials to take on the competition. But this was a tough competition for Microsoft than it would have expected to be.

Mobile business and the competition
Although Apple and Microsoft have been in the software business for a long time, the former as a smartphone brand had an edge over Microsoft.

Apple had a long experience in phone business beside it had built its own OS, software applications and even designed phone hardware. At the same, time market was witnessed a range of smartphones running on Google’s Android OS.

So the competition was not alone for just Microsoft. Even Cortana was facing a much experienced Apple’s Siri and then there was Amazon’s Alexa too. This certainly was a bit of a challenge for Microsoft as it was under tremendous pressure to make its new phone business count and edge out its rivals.

Microsoft’s phone business debacle and the write-off
But in reality, Microsoft found itself in a different world, where it was not the leader nor had any monopoly over the business to control the market.

And this directly reflected on Microsoft’s overall business within the first year of Nokia’s phone business buyout.

Meanwhile, Microsoft board appointed new CEO Satya Nadella replacing Steve Ballmer after the phone business debacle. Under CEO Nadella, the Redmond, Washington headquartered company decided to writeoff the $7.2 billion Nokia phone acquisition. It even laid off 7,800 people.

And by October 2017, Microsoft was forced to shut down smartphone business and completely exited from selling or manufacturing Windows phones.

Cortana still there but no devices
Its been three years since Microsoft closed the phone business chapter but it still continues pin high hopes on Cortana. Because she is a purpose-built application but with no devices at her disposal, Microsoft has moved her to Windows 10.

That’s how Cortana has ended up on Windows 10 desktops and laptops rather than any mobile device.

The company wants Cortana to play the role of an interactive interface between the users and other Microsoft applications. It further aims to leverage Cortana with the power of AI to help increase productivity while using Windows 10 OS platform, Microsoft 365, Outlook Mobile and Team app.

In a way, the company is trying to make Cortana – an in-built virtual assistance across its Windows applications running on desktops and laptops.

But then the question remains — Do users really prefer or want to have a virtual assistant on desktops or laptops? Probably, the realistic answer is no but certainly, Microsoft thinks otherwise.

Cortana and AI shift
“Cortana is continuing to redefine the nature of a digital assistant, with new AI-powered experiences in Microsoft 365 that are accelerating productivity to help save you time and focus on the things that matter most,” Microsoft said in a statement.

“ As we make this shift toward a transformational AI-powered assistant experience in Microsoft 365, we need to adjust our focus areas of innovation and development to give our customers assistance where they need it most,” the company added.

With AI shift, Microsoft appears more confident of making a difference to user experience and productivity with Cortana.

While Microsoft phones are no longer available in the market, probably Cortana remains highly underutilised virtual assistant till date. But that’s not the case, according to a report released last year.

Encouraging stats for Microsoft
“Cortana holds a 22% market share worldwide. Microsoft is switching strategy to make Cortana more enterprise targeted, with tighter integration into Office 365 and its suite of productivity tools,” stated a new report from Futuresource Consulting.

Cortana with 22% is second to Apple Siri, which holds a 35% share globally. Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa hold 9% and 4% market share respectively, as per the report.

The report pointed out that shipments of virtual assistants rose 25% year-on-year to 1.1 billion units in 2019 and is expected to exceed 2.5 billion shipments by 2023.

The stats from report are no less than any surprise. But are certainly encouraging for Microsoft to value and back Cortana to drive its transformational AI vision for enterprises.

(Image source – Microsoft )

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