Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore just took to the stage at the company’s annual developer conference, Build here in San Francisco to make an announcement regarding Windows Phone 8.1, the new operating system for its smartphones. It sports a host of new features. And what better new feature than the long rumored Cortana? Joe not only announced Microsoft’s voice assistant app for Windows Phone, but also gave us a demonstration of it.

Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft’s take on the voice assistant service set to lock horns with Google’s Google Now and Apple’s Siri. Cortana, as Joe notes, is the first voice assistant to truly understand what users want, it is completely personalized and will learn and shape itself with your habits as you use it. “When we started working out with Cortana, we asked many real-world personal assistants about how they do their job,” said Belfiore during today’s keynote.

Features of Cortana

Cortana, by default asks you “What’s on your mind” and awaits your response. Here are a few things you can ask her, and things that it offers.

  • Schedule appointments.
  • Tailored news. Cortana will show up news from your favored topics ranging from health to entertainment.
  • Directly open Apps. For example, Saying “Skype Radu” will open the Skype app and make a call to Radu.
  • Deeper Facebook integration. For instance, say “What’s up with (your friend’s name)” and it will open Facebook and take you to your friend’s profile.
  • Scans your messages and email to provide alerts and reminders.
  • Basic stuff like making calls, sending texts, setting alarms, playing music etc.
  • Other features include music searches (like Shazam), trip planner (flight alerts), weather alerts and quiet hours.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Cortana also integrates with Bing search engine and can provide you information from the web as well. It is noteworthy to mention that Bing recently partnered with Foursquare, so it can help you with places recommendations too. The service is in its beta stage now, and should ship with Windows Phone 8.1. Also, Cortana will be US Only service to start with.

Here’s a video demo of Cortana from Microsoft.

What we think of this What we think of this
Cortana is possibly the most anticipated feature in WP 8.1, and it looks good. It seems to take the best of both Siri and Google Now. But the challenge for Microsoft is data. Right now it’ll be US specific, which is kind of a bummer. Also, the voice is bit too robotic for my liking.
 

is pursuing a bachelor's degree in computer science and engineering. He presently sports a Nexus 5, iPad Mini with Retina, Nexus 7, Lumia 520, and more.