Bingo Was Almost Cortana’s Name-O

Posted on December 20, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Windows Phones with 26 Comments

Microsoft is well-known for its uncomfortable relationship with branding, but Cortana is the rare exception of them getting it just right. It almost didn’t happen.

“I chatted to Sandeep Paruchuri, my colleague from WhatsApp and a former PM at Microsoft, about Microsoft’s AI assistant, Cortana,” Alice Newton Rex writes in the most recent entry in the Big Bets newsletter. “A competitor to Siri and Google Now, Cortana was a bottom-up bet that became a major part of Microsoft’s strategy to make their Windows Phone succeed and to prove their prowess in the AI arena.”

Well, we all know how that turned out, but the most interesting part of this interview, perhaps, relates to branding.

“[Microsoft CEO Steve] Ballmer had poor product taste,” Mr. Paruchuri told Newton Rex. “He wanted the whole thing to be Microsoft branded. And then his parting gift [Ballmer would soon step down as CEO] was to try to name it Bingo. But we waited it out.”

Incoming CEO Satya Nadella had “different ideas” about the branding of Microsoft’s digital assistant, Newton Rex explains, and he “was a huge supporter of the project because of his belief in the power of AI. Under his leadership, Cortana got to keep her name and was declared ready to ship” as part of Windows Phone 8.1.

The newsletter also touches on the failures of Windows Phone and Cortana, and it’s a curiously insular take to believe that Cortana failed because of “too many cooks” syndrome. But that’s the story Paruchuri delivers.

“Everything that was right about the first release went wrong for the second release,” he said. Now, there were hundreds of Microsoft product managers “trying to get in on the action, and getting anything done required dozens of cross-company meetings,” Newton Rex writes. All of the new people diluted the original ethos they’d built and diluted the focus. They’d worked out how to scale their product but not their culture … With the rapid dilution, the brand faltered before it even had a chance to truly reach the masses.”

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Comments (26)

26 responses to “Bingo Was Almost Cortana’s Name-O”

  1. red.radar

    But was it like:

    Bingo | Full Movie | Movies Anywhere

    or rather

    Christmas Vacation Bingo Night at Celtic, Celtic Crossing Irish Pub,  Memphis, December 23 2021 |

  2. christianwilson

    I get the reasoning behind Bingo as a reference to Bing working in the background. That name would have introduced a lot of ridicule and jokes so I'm glad they didn't go with it.

    Not that a different name would have made much difference. I think Cortana's only hope for being successful in its original form would have been a successful Windows Phone.

  3. WaltC

    Ah, yes...Ballmer...and his "Bingo"...the man who tried valiantly to single-handedly bankrupt Microsoft by idiotically attempting to copy almost everything Apple was doing at the time starting with Win8, I believe. Then there was Nokia and Windows phone...and lots more besides. My favorite was Ballmer offering $40B to buy Yahoo!...Ballmer was saved only by the stupidity of the Yahoo! founder who should have been smart and taken the money and run...;) Good thing for Microsoft that Ballmer is out.

  4. Greg Green

    Apparently Cortana and Nadella's belief in the power of AI were undermined by the power of MS' human intelligence.

  5. ianhead

    Bingo the Clown-O?

  6. a_lurker

    Both names are stupid for different reasons. Bingo reminds people of Bing; for most a semi-relevant site. Cortana is not particularly poetic though it is better than 'Okay Google'. Name aside, Cortana's success was tied directly to the success of Windows phone; a dismal failure.

  7. sandeepm

    This is so true. Windows Phone did not fail. It was sabotaged by Microsoft (and google, of course)

  8. bats

    Microsoft got it right with the "Cortana" name and brand? LOL....NO WAY!!! Nobody used it. Nobody cared! Hardly anyone in the entire universe used anything with "Cortana" attached to it. Thurrott got it wrong again.....AGAIN. Thurrott has to go by the "George Costanza" principle, that whatever he thinks of saying or doing, just say or do the he can actually get it right.

    Do people realize that everything Sandeep Paruchuri has beeng quoted on, with regards to Cortana, failed? Cortana didn't have a chance to succeed because it was simply too late in the game for it to enter, when users were already using and depending on Apple's Siri and Google's Google Now. 

    Furthermore think about this, If Cortana brand is far superior to the Ballmer's "Bingo", then how is brand cooler or better than Google's latest version of it AI engine, aka "The Google Assistant?" Actually, "Bingo" was not a bad idea. It's a name brand that can harken one's mind to the "Bing" search engine, almost naturally. It actually works. "Bingo" is actually something that can work with people who have no problem saying it like Siri, Google, and Alexa. If you ask me, and I get things right, "Cortana" was a stupid name. It was too exotic, almost like a science fiction pornstar. It's true!

    On another website, it states "According to Parachuri, Cortana was doomed as soon as too many people started working on the assistant. "Across the company, anything that was AI or ML started being branded Cortana, so the name ceased to stand for anything at all. It was the beginning of the end," he explained. The glory days of Cortana may be fully behind us, but the full story is well worth a read." What does that have to do with anything??? It means absolutely nothing. I've read in the past a number of teams work on The Google Assistant constantly. Unless that quote was mis-stated or misrepresented, by Parachuri, that there were too many cooks in the kitchen....means nothing. So what?

    In the end, IMO, Cortana was somewhat superior to Siri and Amazon's Alexa. Yet, Cortana no longer exists, except as a butt of jokes and stands beside "Clippy" in ther Microsoft Hall of Fame. This tells me, that the brand "Cortana" was an absolute failure, despite the fact that every single person who access a Windows 10 computer had it on there. That has nothing to do with "too many people started working on the assistant."

    All in all, I do agree that Ballmer did show some poor product taste in the past, but in my opinion, his "Bingo" idea was actually pretty good. Also, let's not go over board with praise for Satya Nadella. Under his watch, Microsoft has tried so many things and failed with almost every single one of them. Seriously, what has Nadella done?

    • eric_rasmussen

      Is that you, Steve? ?

      I think most people under the age of 50 have some idea of who Cortana was. Halo was one of the most popular video games of all time, selling over 80 million copies and grossing more than $6 billion in revenue. It was more than just kids, adults were playing it too. I'm almost 50 and I played Halo for many many hours. Tying in the AI brand to the most well-known AI creation next to HAL doesn't seem crazy to me at all.

  9. darkgrayknight

    I'm glad it was Cortana rather than Bingo.

    Cortana as an AI actually did really well, the problem was getting people onto Windows Phone to use it. It was a lot of missteps in Windows Phone versions/exclusives/etc.

  10. LT1 Z51

    Ballmer just had poor product taste? That explains many things. Also why MS languished the Ballmer years.

    • Cosmocronos

      Really? Actually it is Nadella that is cashing on initiatives conceived and started under Ballmer.

  11. jchampeau

    "....and getting anything done required dozens of cross-company meetings,”

    Reminds me of this Dave Barry quote about meetings: “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.”

  12. angusmatheson

    Bingo would have been a stupid name. But, I, know I am a lone voice here, but I think I Cotana was a bad name because of its associated with a naked, blue skinned woman with gravity defying breasts. This depiction of a woman, and Microsoft insists that Cotana is female doubling down on this concept, is offensive and thoughtless for a major release from a major company. That depiction is not OK, and there is no way with the name Cotana to escape that. Cotana failed. I don’t think because of this, but it was still a bad move. Maybe ask Jeeves would have given their name, I would have loved to have a Jeeves loving in my phone waiting to help me out.

    • wright_is

      I would guess 90% of users hav no idea hat you are talking about. From descriptions I remember reading at the time, Cortana was a disembodied voice talking to the player in Halo…

    • whistlerpro

      You’re probably right in the sense that the whole concept of Cortana from Halo might not have been created today (she’s purple by the way), but that’s not to say that pinching the brand for the digital assistant was a bad idea. The use of a feminine sounding name is very much in line with Alexa and Siri and was never personified outside of the game (to my knowledge).

  13. crunchyfrog

    I remember the anticipation of what Microsoft was finally going to name its AI assistant. I knew that Cortana was in the running and at that time hoped it would be, however even then I thought it was a strange choice being named after a video game character.

    That said, I don't think Bingo was a terrible choice as it would have tied into their Bing search engine better and yelling, "Hey, Bingo" to your device can't be any worse than, "Okay, Google". Google did a worse job on naming and activating the assistant in my opinion.

    • angusmatheson

      You are brilliant!! They liked Bingo because of the Bing tie in. I do think the future is computer will be natural language like in Star Trek. What is amazing is how terrible they all are. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Samsung all have voice assistant - and they all work meh. Apple released Siri in October 2011, Cortana 2014 and google assistant 2016.

  14. peterc

    Yeah but shouting “bingo” at your handset or PC would have been fun! Here in the UK you could have really confused our older generation who play bingo for cash prizes at the bingo halls and clubs…. My neighbour would have been convinced I’d had a gambling problem!

  15. navarac

    ...hundreds of Microsoft product managers “trying to get in on the action, and getting anything done required dozens of cross-company meetings,”...

    Now we finally get to the probable reason for a lot of Microsoft woes. Probably why Windows 11 is a unmitigated mess.

    • rob_segal

      Windows 11 is a matter of opinion. I believe Windows needs simplification and Windows 11 is closer to that than Windows 10 is. When I look at Windows 10 vs 11, I see 10 being messy, overly complicated, and inconsistent. 11 is simpler and more consistent, but doesn't go far enough.

      • christianwilson

        Windows 10 always felt like a weird hybrid child of Windows 7 and Windows 8, which it was. I agree that the design language was more confusing and inconsistent than it needed to be because it carried two very different Windows legacies with it.

        Windows 11 is more focused, which I think is a good thing. It could benefit from being a bit more flexible than it ended up being at launch but we are months into the lifespan. There is time to figure all this out.

      • navarac

        Yes, a matter of opinion (W11). I think a lot of it stems from how old someone is really :-) Still, I truly believe Microsoft could not organise a booze up in the brewery, certainly not when it comes to documentation (I was a engineering technical author).

  16. miamimauler

    The name was irrelevant in the end although Bingo would have been ridiculous and it would have made MS a laughing stock.

    Fact is, WP/WM never sold enough units for their voice assistant to catch on and it failed to succeed on the desktop as well as apparently most users don't like talking to their desktops.

    The name was irrelevant due to a lack of users.

  17. PhilipVasta

    Man what an embarrassment that would have been. It’s like he wanted people to make fun of it. Although in retrospect, Cortana wasn’t really a great name for the product, either, even though it was a fun nod to Halo. in any case, I can’t say Cortana’s failure as a personal assistant is that disappointing, because frankly, none of these things is especially interesting or useful.

  18. ponsaelius

    Bingo would have been a silly name. Bing is silly too. Branding is important and people "google" results. It's become a verb. That is decent branding.

    Cortana is fine. Most people are barely aware of Halo and it's a name like Siri.

    Cortana's problem was that for an AI to be useful it needs to be always there. Without a mobile platform it becomes less useful. That's really it. Maybe Bing should have been Cortana Search or some such thing. Search should have been rebranded with the AI name and not the other way around.