Cortana, Productivity and deja-vu

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I have been reading recently that Cortana is going to change to being a “productivity” product. Since AI is a key new future wave identified by CEO Satya Nadella it would not look good if Cortana was discontinued. It will, so I read, feature in enterprise and business. It isn’t dead it’s just resting (with apologies to Monty Python’s parrot sketch).

Since CES at the beginning of the year, the explosion of smart home devices from Google and Amazon, and PC manufacturers getting serious about Alexa, Cortana seems to be taking a back seat. Cortana has always taken a backseat here in the UK. Despite speaking English, Microsoft treat English spoken in the country that invented English as a foreign language market. You need to speak US English to get a first class seat in Cortana’s world. Features in the US version have don’t work in the UK at all or are reduced. Transportation in the UK includes train and public transport, like much of Europe, whereas the US is a car economy. The net result is that Cortana gets a bit lost when you choose transit or ask about trains. Bing maps is not too great either here. Buildings are mis-placed by miles, bus routes are a bit confused and any corrections you submit never get corrected.

Reminders are great. Except that they don’t seem to connect to the To Do app, Outlook, Outlook.com or anything else. Cortana doesn’t really understand context. I asked recently for an airport map and it showed me the centre of the nearest town. Cortana stopped working with music, can’t find podcasts or understand that “home” is my home address I put into Cortana.

In short my non-US experience is a struggle and if I didn’t want to use Microsoft services I would have drifted back to Google Assistant a long time ago.

I was thinking about this. I was seeing that this is a barely working service outside the USA, it hasn’t improved in years, it is declining in market share, lacking in development, no mobile platform that makes it easy to take with you. It is now being “rebranded” for productivity rather than having it’s shortcomings addressed.

For me this was the same pattern as Windowsphone. Non-American markets being poorly served, a product that was not being updated, denial about it being discontinued and a move to business as a revival strategy.

So I understand that Cortana is just the front end to AI at Microsoft. Bing is part of the equation along with other things. This feels like deja-vu. A Microsoft product gradually losing traction while Microsoft denies it is fading away.

Comments (5)

5 responses to “Cortana, Productivity and deja-vu”

  1. SherlockHolmes

    Thats the problem with Microsoft. They are unable to admit openly that a product failed. They want to push it down peoples throat.

    We dont care when customers dont like Cortana or any that failed over the past decades. For as long as we make it hard and harder to turn things off, customers will use them sooner or later.

    Sad.

  2. jimchamplin

    Cortana still excels in one place where other assistants are apparently designed to fail.


    I can type to Cortana by default and expect everything to work.


    I don't understand why that's such a difficult thing to comprehend. Siri on macOS requires you to use an Accessibility feature to enable that I do believe. These machines that ship with Alexa apps don't seem to have a way to interact with Alexa in ways that aren't voice.


    And there's the huge problem, the disconnect between the heady ideas of Silicon Valley and the reality of what users want and need. They create these fantastic things but get caught up in the way they want you to use it. I don't care how they want me to use it.


    I like the fact that I can use Cortana while in the middle of a conversation with someone and it doesn't interrupt anything. I need a timer? Screw it, just click on the box and type it. It happens. I don't even need a damn microphone.

  3. Finley

    For a company that shows off real time audio translation Microsoft sucks at releasing products and services outside of US English speaking areas

  4. innitrichie

    Cortana is certainly far from great. Often when I try to trigger the "Hey Cortana" word on Android, Cortana responds with a simple "Hey" in response and then stops listening. Other times it doesn't respond at all. Occasionally after I say "Hey Cortana" it starts listening as it should waiting for commands from me. It can't set a timer in my region, but it can set alarms, and this annoys me. One of the features I do like about Cortana on Android though is it passing my text messages over to my Windows PC's, and apparently it can send other Android notifications too but I haven't explored this yet.

  5. Tony Barrett

    Cortana is dead. No question about that. Without their own successful mobile platform, whatever MS do on the desktop is pointless. Just kill the b*tch now. MS just don't like admitting defeat, but sometimes you just have to take it on the chin.

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