Does Cortana have any point any more ?


I was one of the people that watched the first announcement of Cortana by Microsoft. Siri was on iPhone at that point but my experience of friends using Siri showed me that beyond asking about the weather it wasn’t much good for anything.

The promise of Cortana was quite different. This was to be a personal assistant for the most personal of phones – Windowsphone. It seemed to me that a digital assistant that really worked and had Microsoft’s cloud machine learning behind it would do far more than Siri. Unfortunately it was going to be a while beofe my Windowsphone could test it. Cortana was a US only product. Eventually Cortana arrived in the UK. It took a long time and many of the features just didn’t work.

One of the things I looked forward to was maps, transport and directions. Like many Europeans using public transport (transit) is the way I get about. It quickly transpired that Bing Maps was inaccurate and primarily designed for drivers. Timetable information for buses and trains was entirely absent even though most transportation systems provided APIs to link to mapping and location services. Cortana eventually got to support local buses but due to mapping inaccuracy often the most obscure routes were shown taking you miles away from a bus stop. You could literally stand at a stop and ask for times only to be advised to walk 500m in the opposite direction to catch the bus that stopped in front of you. 

Yet it did get better. I stuck with it. Local scout disappeared from Windowsphone and local information got worse. Cortana when asked for a local store gave you web references hundreds of miles away. On holiday in other parts of Europe it was less reliable. 

Then Windowsphone was cancelled. In the spirit of President Trump a Microsoft executive just tweeted it was over and that was it. 

There is no Bing Maps on Android but I put Cortana on as my assistant. Directions improved due to Google Maps being accurate and being updated. However, Cortana was still struggling. Asking it for bus times tomorrow to get to work would give me crazy routes starting late a night and waiting overnight in the bus terminal just to travel 8 miles instead to just giving me my commute options the next morning.  

So I tried Google Assistant as my default. It seemed to understand which days I worked, my route, where I got off and made sensible transport suggestions. It alerts me quickly to local stores when I ask to buy something. It doesn’t seem to be missing any features reserved only for the US. 

Hold on. Isn’t Microsoft focused on AI and machine learning. Cortana has access to my email, calendar and texts. It knows my location. Why does Google Assistant seem to know me better since I am really a user of Microsoft services. 

Cortana is utterly failing to encourage me to use it on my mobile device. I am beginning to think I would like Google Assistant on the PC.

Without a mobile platform Cortana seems an orphan. Inaccurate, partially compatible with life outside the USA, almost useless on mobile. I am not sure if I need a voice assistant on a PC however if I do it would be better not being Cortana.

Comments (43)

43 responses to “Does Cortana have any point any more ?”

  1. skane2600

    For what it's worth, Cortana on my WP notifies me over my car Bluetooth when a text arrives and gives me the option to give a voice response that it then translates to text and it sends back to the other party. My understanding is that this isn't a standard capability on an Android phone.

    • cr08

      In reply to skane2600:

      Nope. Not in stock Android at least. I imagine some OEM's who hack their version of Android to death may have it but couldn't say.

      I used to have a Moto X Pure and with their light touch 'assistant' features there was one that did this exact feature which I loved as it even triggered the headunit in my car to take over the radio when a text message came in. LOVED it. Sadly that phone had so many other issues over time and Motorola seems to have nixed that future in nearly every other phone after that.

      I think there are some third party apps on Android that can do this but I haven't found any that are as seamless and user friendly as the way WP and Moto did it.

    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to skane2600:

      I miss this feature on a regular basis and I'm baffled that it's not yet available on iOS.

    • Tony Barrett

      In reply to skane2600:

      I use Android Auto in the car every day. It will notify you of messages/calls received and allow you to reply using voice.

      • skane2600

        In reply to ghostrider:

        But is that an Android phone feature or a car feature?

        • Tony Barrett

          In reply to skane2600:

          It's an app you can download from the Google App store on pretty much any Android phone, and it turns it into a car assistant with music, mapping, phone and message integration. Many cars have it built in now too - and it pairs with the phone over bluetooth or via USB cable so the car's touch screen becomes the interface.

          I run it on a Nexus 7 2013 which I've mounted in the car. Nice 7" touch screen running Android Auto which pairs to my phone automatically over bluetooth.

    • dcdevito

      In reply to skane2600:

      Not with a phone itself, but if you have a car head unit equipped with Android Auto it does - and does a great job of it.

      • skane2600

        In reply to dcdevito:

        I'm not sure how to reconcile your explanation with ghostrider's. Is it an Android app that requires only your phone and bluetooth or does it depend on the car supporting it or some extra device?

        • cr08

          In reply to skane2600:

          Basically to get the full experience you need the car to support Android Auto. Either by the stock headunit or an aftermarket one. I have a Ford vehicle with the early MyFord Touch system and unfortunately can't swap it out due to certain features of the car being intertwined with it. So no AA for me.

          AA does have the option of just using your phone in a simple 'mounted to the dash and tapping the screen' mode but as far as I recall this mode does not do any of the intelligent stuff mentioned above like taking over the radio for notifications/text messages/etc. Obviously if you only rely on streaming apps on the phone and just feed it all over BT it works to a point.

          Semi-OT rant: I do really wish someone was able to work with some form of Siri eyes-free impersonator/emulator for Android devices. Since some cars are getting this as well even on basic systems, it would solve a bit of these issues with the lack of a usable eyes-free interaction with your phone. I have Siri eyes-free in my Ford and it would do EXACTLY what I want with my phone but since I am not going to jump into the Apple ecosystem any time soon, it is completely useless to me.

          • wright_is

            In reply to cr08:

            Over here, in Germany, it is illegal to use a phone or tablet, even if it is mounted on the dashboard, whilst the engine is running. On the other hand, if it goes through Android Auto or Apple's equivalent and you can use the car's built in head-unit, that is okay.

            I only use mine for audio anyway, so I use bluetooth to connect to the headunit (non-AA) and just listen to my podcasts or Audible and leave my phone in my pocket / bag or in a mount on the passenger side of the vehicle, so I'm not tempted to use it on the road.

  2. dcdevito

    It's difficult to have an AI front end interface to end users when the only devices MSFT can put it on are PCs and XBox consoles (oh, and one newly released thermostat).

    "Why does Google Assistant seem to know me better since I am really a user of Microsoft services." Easy. Because the device(s) Google has hooks to get into you are mobile, thus have more and better capabilities (via sensors) on where you are.

    • neunmalelf

      In reply to Cortana runs on Android, and IOS. What it can do for a user is a different story.

    • wright_is

      In reply to dcdevito:

      I'm not impressed with the Google Assistant either. When I finally deactivated it, over 90% of its activations (i.e. sound recordings in their cloud) were of footsteps and wind. Most of the rest were snippits of conversation in the office and only a handfull were of actual queries - most of which it failed to understand.

      The vaunted "personalized" advertising doesn't seem to be any better. I just got hours of Generali insurance or Grammerly stuck into YouTube videos.

      When I search for handbooks, update information or bugs for products on Google, the first dozen or so answers are often shopping and comparison sites offering me deals to buy a product that I already have (otherwise I probably wouldn't be looking for documentation or support!).

      And don't even get me started on the dreadful state of Google Translate!

  3. Xatom

    MS is still living offofBill Gates legacy. They are well into their half life.

  4. jules_wombat

    Cortana failed as relied upon a strong mobile consumer usage. Cortana appeared to be developing about three years ago [In UK], with some useful automated voice phone replies, when I was driving, traffic warnings, ambient response to verbal requsts etc. But these Cortana services are no longer working here on my Lumia phone. No more traffic notifications/warnings and I now have to shout at it to recognsie any requests.

    Basically as a consumer service Microsoft are not really invested into it, its just another failed consumer plaything to add to their failure pile. Google have much deeper AI and consumer mobile data to exploit, and so clearly will be domnant in consumer AI.

    This really should not be a surprise.

  5. jaredthegeek

    I don't care about Cortana on my computer. Having an assistant on my phone is key and since Cortana on Android is not convenient I use Google. I used Cortana extensively on Windows phones but we all know that story.

  6. Chris_Kez

    It's too early in the US for me to dig up citations but my understanding is that Microsoft is repositioning Cortana. The focus is no longer the voice based personal assistant that debuted on Windows Phone. I think the idea now is that Cortana will be more of a keyboard based productivity assistant that leverages deep integration in Windows and Office to help you, if perhaps less visibly. Cortana will move from the search button to the action center in the coming 1809 update, and I know they're working on an improved text-based conversational experience.

    As a former Windows Phone user I find it a but sad. I feel like Microsoft squandered a great opportunity.

  7. Tony Barrett

    MS may say they're 're-positioning Cortana', but that's suit speak for 'it's failed, and now we're trying to find something else for it to do'. Cortana has no place against Alexa and Google Assistant - it just doesn't. The HK Cortana smart speaker failed dismally, and there's no MS moble platform for it to be front and center. Basically, Cortana has no real market. It may be part of Win10, but it's a part that get's very little use and offers no major benefit to the desktop user. Another ship sailed for MS.

  8. Paul Thurrott

    Let me be frank, as usual.

    Cortana is a failure. I would not base any buying decisions on the availability of this technology. Even when it's there, it works less well than other assistants. Whether this was a mistake of strategy is sort of beside the point, but Microsoft has never really dug in with anything consumer-based with the possible exception of Xbox. And that required Sony really kicking their ass this generation.

    • VancouverNinja

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      You say Cortana is failure. By what measure? Are you saying this as it has yet to roll out in a bunch of home speakers? Or it does not yet have as many third party solutions? Or that the market for users is all but saturated with Google, Alexa, and Siri owning the entire market of potential consumers already?

      You have championed Chromebooks but after following your comments, over the last few years, it has not improved in its market share at all.

      Currently Cortana has been the most valuable AI for me as it actually has meaningful reminders tied to my work. As for using AI outside of work its appeal to me is very limited. I have just completed having all my home light switches converted to Leviton Dimmer switches or switches; and now we see the next gen switches including ambient microphones to control AI in rooms - this is a brilliant addition and solves a huge issue with buying these little speakers for every room. My point is we are at a nascent stage for AI services and the game is not close to being over.

      I would say if we do not see more support across devices within the next 12 - 18 months, for Cortana, then it will be out of the consumer game. Your current assessment is far to early in the game and would lead people down a path of having Cortana for all of their work (which I believe leads all of the AI services when it comes to productivity) and some other AI. Cortana provides consumers with the best of both worlds and plays nice with Alexa. It is these two points that makes Cortana a very viable threat should Microsoft be planning more consumer services and vendor partnerships over the next 12 months or so; which I believe they are.

    • jprestig

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      I'm such an Xbox fan, that I try over and over to go full Microsoft services. But each time I come back to the same conclusion - the only good consumer based thing Microsoft has is Xbox. is fine, but I run into small issues that drive me insane. Office 365 is great, but I don't need it for anything Google's Suite can't do. OneDrive is nice, but photo backup is clunky compared to Google Photos.

      I think Microsoft makes a fantastic OS and they are great at gaming. Outside of that I can't see any good reason to be using any of their services as a consumer.

      • VancouverNinja

        In reply to jprestig:

        If you are not using O365 then you are not getting the main benefits of Cortana right now. For me this is another reason why O365 is leading in its space so strongly. I have everything I currently need with Cortana - Alexa/Cortana is a better solution than just Google Voice Assistant or Alexa on their own. All of my smart devices in my home can be controlled by Cortana (even my xbox as I have the Kinnect 2 still on my Xbox One Xs), and Cortana is my assistant with all of my work stuff. I just don't know another AI system that works as well as Cortana does for me at this point.

        This is why I think we have a few people getting way ahead of themselves.

        • Tony Barrett

          In reply to VancouverNinja:

          Glad Cortana does what you need, but it sounds like you're 'all in' on MS services, which the majority aren't, or have no interest in. Cortana on the desktop makes little sense, and has very limited appeal. Even Amazon don't have the full ecosystem to backup Alexa, which is why smart speakers are there only real avenue (and using MS as a mule!) Google have the entire ecosystem in place, which neither MS or Amazon have, so longer term, Google have the best chance of success.

          MS likely realize that their only way of standing any chance with Cortana in the consumer space is to get into bed with Amazon, but who on earth is going to say 'Alexa, call Cortana' on their Echo??? Really, it's just not going to happen.

          Cortana will slowly receed from Windows 10 and move more to MS's cloud services - like you say O365. She has no point to exist otherwise.

          • wright_is

            In reply to ghostrider:

            I don't know many people that are all in on Microsoft, but thereagain, none of them are all-in on Amazon, Google or Apple either, well, a couple do use Apple Watch as well as the iPhone.

          • VancouverNinja

            In reply to ghostrider:

            Can't agree that the majority of people are not into Microsoft. I would have to argue the numbers don't support that thinking - the MAJORITY of users are indeed into Microsoft - they use Windows everyday and when given alternatives - Macs or Chromebooks they choose to stay with Microsoft.

            Cortana on PC's make a ton of sense since Cortana heavily supports productivity apps. I just got my GLAS thermostat - and it is awesome. Cortana works brilliant on it and since Smartthings supports Cortana I have full control over all the items I need. Now I also have Alexa in addition to Cortana - Google looks like a last choice to me if you knew what you were doing ( or in a nicer comment understood the advantages clearly ).

            Google does not have the full ecosystem - they have abandoned the Windows PC and this was a strategic blunder. Every month a Windows app hold out falls and releases an app - this fall more will be launching skills or support for Cortana.

            I will hold off claiming anyone one has won for the next 12 - 18 months. I would say since MS is available across all devices, everywhere, should they launch a hot mobile device everything will be upside down very quickly.

            Techies love Google - consumers and business people love Windows 10.

            • Tony Barrett

              In reply to VancouverNinja:

              Your confused. The PC is a dying breed, no matter what MS try and do. Windows 10 is Microsoft's last stand, which is why they're updating it for all their worth to try and keep it relevant, but, a PC is not a mobile device, despite how MS try and treat it, and mobile is the future. Windows is like an old pair of slippers - familiar, comfortable and worn out, but quickly forgotten and replaced with something better.

              FYI, very few are 'all in' on Microsoft and even less 'love' Windows. MS have no mobile infrastructure and consumer relevance and trust is at an all time low. Barely 1 in 5 16-25 year olds own a PC! Companies use Windows because they have to, consumers have PC's, but they get used less and less and aren't getting replaced. Google never went 'all in' on Windows, because they knew its writing was on the wall. MS literally had to force people to upgrade to 10 because otherwise nobody would have bothered with it.

              As for Cortana, other than a few, nobody would miss it if it went. It's a third class AI citizen. It's pointless on Windows and Xbox, and as for that one thermostat that supports it and is probably only available on special order in the US, it will sell almost none and disappear just like the HK smart speaker.

              • wright_is

                In reply to ghostrider:

                It depends on what you are doing. I sit at a desk all day and work on several different systems at the same time. I don't see any portable handheld device replacing a decent keyboard and 3 27" monitor setup (or on my home machine a 34" UXHD). I have a laptop as well, which is good when I need something quickly, but not as convinient as my desktop system ordocked laptop.

                For reading, yes, my Kindle Voyager is much better than a PC.

                When I'm out and about, my phone is fine for making calls or reading quick messages, but any lengthy text will wait until I can get to a decent sized screen to read it in comfort, likewise, anything other than a one word answer will also wait until I can get to a decent screen and input device.

                The PC is no longer the only option, but for many tasks, and for many office based jobs, it is still the only solution or the only sensible solution. Smartphones and voice assistants are no replacement for a decent sized screen and a keyboard - mores the pity. It will be interesting, when a real alternative to a PC comes along for normal business use.

                For mobile sales people, a tablet is a huge boon. Likewise for certain tasks in the production, ticking off inspections as you wanter around, fine. For a fixed position on a production line, a mounted touchscreen PC + a connection to sensors on the production line (RFID reader, whip-sensors, barcode scanners, scales, intelligent PLCs etc.) is much more efficient and easier to use than just a PC + keyboard or a tablet.

                Likewise, voice recognition software on a PC is a boon for dentists and dental hygenists, they can dictate their findings as they work with both hands in your mouth. But voice is very limited, especially in busy environments and touchscreens are lousy for large amounts of data input.

                • Tony Barrett

                  In reply to wright_is:

                  I said Windows is a dying breed - but it's not dead yet. Sure, plenty still have a use for them, and couldn't do their job without them, but more and more of what happens on a PC nowadays is web based - but you don't actually need Windows for that - it's just what we're used to. Mobile apps are taking over everywhere though. For example, I do ALL my banking on my mobile now, I read forums, check the news, play the odd game, navigate, read my emails, send text messages etc all from my phone. My kids barely touch our laptop - 98% of what they do is on their mobile - and they can type on their phone faster than a proper keyboard!

                  The big problem is, for certain demographic age groups, the PC means very little, and it's shrinking all the time. Kids born in the 2000's only really know mobile, and kids born this decade won't know Windows at all. Microsoft know this, but as they don't have a mobile platform to carry them forward, they're running to the cloud - where they still have a big presence, but only really still for corporate customers who are their main source of income now. MS in the consumer space is shrinking fast - lots of failed attempts have fallen by the wayside for MS, with the only real success being the Xbox, but they now seem to be screwing that up as well. In 10 years time, Microsoft WILL be a cloud only services provider - maybe even a profitable one - for any platform it can get signed up, and for those Windows PC's that are left, you'll be hanging onto a dinosaur.

                • VancouverNinja

                  In reply to wright_is:

                  I can only see the PC transforming or full convergence the day a Phone can truly plug into a full destop screen and run full programs. However for traveling or meetings I can't see how a laptop/2in1 goes away.

                  Until that time PCs are not going anywhere and there is a chance we see them grow again.

      • neunmalelf

        In reply to What you very well described, is how the incompetence and chaos within Microsoft makes a lot of their products and services less useful and gives users reasons to leave for other platforms. 

        It's not the lack of technology, but the lack of good management. 

        Users don't want new (often useless) features and constant UI changes, at the cost of for stability, functionality and usability. 

        How long does a technology company need to get all outlook version under one umbrella? 

        This isn't rocket science.

    • yaddamaster

      In reply to paul-thurrott: Why can't Microsoft stop this half-hearted attempts? Either go all-in or stop. In the old days throw crap against the wall in hopes one thing sticks worked. It doesn't any more - it just alienates your fans.

      Cortana could have been great. Instead, another half-hearted attempt by Microsoft results in failure.

      • wright_is

        In reply to yaddamaster:

        Yes, especially if you are outside the USA. All other comparative products are international, yet MS releases product in the USA only, then compares sales with world-wide numbers from rivals and claims the product is a failure (Zune, Band, Cortana for iOS/Android).

        Even when a product makes it abroad, it isn't really done properly. Cortana for Windows has been since about half a year after Windows 10's launch. The iOS and Android versions are still not available - there is no suitable backend server infrastructure, according to Microsoft!

      • VancouverNinja

        In reply to yaddamaster:

        You can't call it a failure before the game is over. We are exiting the first inning and right now it is the leader for productivity usage and behind in the consumer space. Calling it a failure is kinda whack. ?

        • maethorechannen

          In reply to VancouverNinja:

          You can't call it a failure before the game is over.

          What do you mean? People call products failures before the game is over all the time. Windows Phone, Chromebooks, Sega Saturn, etc, etc.

          Though if experience is anything to go by, when people start calling a product a failure en masse it's usually game over.

          • VancouverNinja

            In reply to maethorechannen:

            You are partially correct. When the category is mature and not nascent it is clear to see the winners. In this category of AI it is nowhere near being mature. So trying to call a leading AI voice assistant a failure is far too premature. the AI category will not become clear for a few more years yet.

            Of note I personally only know of one (ONE) family out of all the ones in our circle of friends that evens uses a AI system. That family bought Alexa from my recommendation a few years ago. At work I am the only one using an AI. And locally all the Google stuff is being discounted.

            My lens on to the market is that it is being driven by the tech sector and being given to people as gifts who don't end up using them right now.

            The services need to evolve much more to gain a true foothold.

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