Let that title sink in for a bit. If you're unsure of what Cortana is, it is the Windows-phone equivalent to Google Now and Siri. That's right, Microsoft wants to release a piece of software that is tightly integrated with the Windows mobile platform for platforms that already have similar, tightly integrated tools.
This has failure written all over it.
How? Isn't Cortana beloved by Windows mobile users? And isn't Google Now fairly solid on the iOS platform? Android has enjoyed plenty of other digital assistants. So what's to say Cortana won't make the leap to both iOS and Android with grace and ease?
After doing a bit of digging into the subject, it turns out that Cortana for Android and iOS will actually serve as a companion app for Windows 10 on PCs. That's right, in order to get the full effect of Cortana, you'll need to also be using a PC with Windows 10.
Let's consider that idea with a few issues it will face:
- A large percentage of iOS users use OS X
- A large percentage of mobile users work primarily from their mobile devices now
- Not everyone will be upgrading to Windows 10
Add to this, the fact that Microsoft has already stated that certain functionalities of Cortana will not function on Android and iOS as it does on Windows (such as opening apps or toggling settings). In fact, upon initial release, Cortana for Android and iOS won't even have voice activation. This means no hands-free usage.
At this point, you're probably wondering why is Microsoft even bothering? In a world where first impressions make or break a product, a feature-hobbled release will very quickly seal the deal for Cortana on platforms outside of Windows. The thing is, Google Now and Siri are deeply embedded into their respective operating systems. Anyone that has tried one of the alternatives (like Skyvi or EVA) knows the experience can be at best less than fulfilling and at worst incredibly frustrating. Not a single digital assistant found on the Google Play Store can stack up to the integration and usability of Google Now. In fact, it's not even remotely close.
So, again, I ask "Why is Microsoft bothering?" The answer is probably as simple as an attempt to gain some traction in the mobile world. Microsoft continues to struggle mightily in the mobile world. This move could well be their last ditch effort to make some noise. And with the upcoming release of Windows 10, it makes perfect sense.
It will, however, not succeed. Android and iOS users don't want a lackluster personal digital assistant on their devices...not when they already have the ideal solution for their platform. If you've used either Google Now or Siri, you know both solutions are about as good as it gets.
Microsoft is clearly tossing up a hail mary in the hopes that anyone using Windows 10 will want to extend the experience to their mobile device—and vice versa. Ultimately, this could be nothing more than an attempt to market Windows 10 and less about bringing quality software to other platforms. The final breeze to send the veil of Microsoft's plans fluttering in the wind is that you'll need Windows 10 to configure Cortana on Android and iOS. Now we see clearly where this play is going. Straight to Windows 10.
The average mobile user (those that make up the vast majority of users) won't bother with installing Cortana on their Android or iOS devices. Why? Because the default solutions are far and above better than anything Microsoft could possibly add to the platforms. And even if the average user does opt to give Cortana a try, who's to say it won't break some of the functionality on their devices? I've seen this happen when installing such deeply integrated third-party software on a mobile device. The last thing an Android user wants is to block Google integration. But hey, options are always good and I'm up for trying anything. I just don't expect Cortana to be much more than a blip on either Android or iOS's radar. And if any of the other digital assistants that have come and gone for Android are any sort of barometer for Cortana, my prediction of failure will probably be spot on.
What do you think? Is Microsoft wasting their time porting its digital assistant to other platforms?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.