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.