Microsoft is hosting a media event later this week to unveil the latest public build of the Windows 10 Technical Preview. There is a wide variety of potential features and updates Microsoft can unleash, and Microsoft has hinted that this new build will focus heavily on the consumer experience. The one thing I'm looking forward to most, though, is Cortana.
Why will we use Cortana?
When Apple first introduced Siri, I was torn on whether that was a novelty parlor trick or a feature with actual value. The jury may still be out for many people, but I use Siri all the time. I ask Siri what the weather is like today. I ask Siri to play music. I ask Siri to answer trivia questions. It's not "Siri" exactly, but I also frequently use the voice input for "typing" text messages or web search terms. It's just faster and easier than typing on a small virtual keyboard on an iPhone.
The experience on a desktop or laptop PC is obviously very different, but I'm confident that an interactive voice feature would be very useful. Ideally, you'd be able to use your voice for navigating Windows and for most common tasks.
I've never really understood the revolt over removing the Start button in Windows 8, and I'm not a huge fan of the new Frankenstein approach to the Start button / Menu in the Windows 10 Technical Preview, but Cortana could effectively render the entire concept irrelevant. Instead of using a mouse, touchpad, or finger to click or tap a Start button and scanning all of the available options to select the one I want, I can just say "Cortana, open OneNote," or "Cortana, play the album Purple Rain by Prince."
How will we use Cortana?
This is the big question, really. One of the challenges Microsoft will have to address in implementing Cortana is ensuring a consistent experience across a diverse collection of hardware devices. How will Cortana be activate? Will devices be constantly listening so users can say "Hey, Cortana" like Android users can do by speaking "OK, Google" or iOS users can do by saying "Hey, Siri" to devices that are plugged in?
If users need to push a button to activate Cortana, which button will it be? Windows 10 is designed to be used on traditional desktops, laptops, tablets (like the Surface Pro 3), and Windows Phone smartphones, and even provide integration and cross-functionality with Xbox. Each of those has different buttons, located in different places — so the challenge for Microsoft will be finding a way to enable users of all Windows 10 platforms to access and use Cortana easily and intuitively.
Speaking commands isn't going to work for every application or task, and it can be problematic in an office environment if there's a lot of background noise and everyone is talking to their PC at the same time. However, it is a simple, natural way of interacting with a PC, tablet, or smartphone — and once you get used to it, you'll wonder how you survived all those years doing things the hard way.
I'm looking forward to features like Continuum, and I'm curious to see if this Windows 10 build will include the new "Spartan" web browser, but the thing I want most is the voice assistant feature. Bring on Cortana!
What announcement or feature are you most looking forward to? Share you thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.