Cortana, Productivity and deja-vu


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, 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.

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