Microsoft Issues Digital Personal Assistant Report

Posted on April 25, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Microsoft, Mobile, Smart Home, Windows 10 with 14 Comments

Microsoft, an also-ran in the market for digital personal assistants, has issued a report about digital personal assistants.

“There’s no denying that voice offers compelling advantages over its predecessors including the mouse, keyboard and touch screen – especially when it comes to accessibility and inclusion,” a Microsoft writeup about the report notes. “But still, there are lingering questions. Can voice technology live up to the hype? Will tech builders be able to overcome trust issues from leery consumers? How does Cortana stand out from the competition?”

Yes, Microsoft actually mentions Cortana.

Anyway, the Microsoft report issued three key findings about the relationships that consumers have with digital personal assistants. They are:

80 percent of digital personal assistant users are somewhat or very satisfied. Users “like using voice and are satisfied with their digital assistants,” Microsoft notes. “They are using their digital assistants to perform small, uncomplicated tasks – the three most commonly cited tasks were searching for a quick fact, asking for directions and searching for a product/service.”

41 percent of users report concerns around trust, privacy and passive listening. “It is up to tech builders to create a secure conversational landscape where consumers feel safe enough to share personally identifiable information and transact,” Microsoft notes, noting that the Internet posed similar challenges as its usage exploded.

Over half believe that digital assistants will help them make retail purchases within the next 5 years. “Consumers are – and always will be – drawn to speed and efficiency,” Microsoft says. “Report findings hint at a future filled with image shopping, retailer chatbots and digital assistants that proactively shop on our behalf.”

Looking at the actual report, you’ll see that Microsoft claims that Cortana is used by 19 percent of respondents, putting it in fourth place behind Google Assistant and Apple Siri (both with 36 percent usage) and Amazon Alexa (25 percent). 1 percent of respondents use “Other,” which is presumably Samsung Bixby. (The report obviously doesn’t cover China, where other assistants rule.)

But Cortana is not available broadly to consumers. The report notes, for example, that “smart speakers rule,” but Cortana was only made available on one smart speaker model, ever, and that is no longer marketed. Smart speakers are also the key to “home management,” another area where Cortana, and Microsoft, play no role at all.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Microsoft positions Cortana as a business solution, where it can “transform the way we work.”

“Cortana is integrated across Microsoft’s subscription-based cloud Office suite, Office 365, Skype, Windows 10 and Xbox,” the report notes. “Perhaps less like Amazon, Apple, and Google, Microsoft is positioning Cortana as complementary to the other players in the voice assistant technology space, instead of competing directly with them. She is also integrated as a voice skill for Amazon Alexa and a voice action for Google Assistant.”

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Comments (14)

14 responses to “Microsoft Issues Digital Personal Assistant Report”

  1. gregsedwards

    The chief reason that Cortana is unable to compete is that other manufacturers have made it nearly impossible to really leverage other companies' AI assistants on their platforms. Look at iOS...sure you can install the Cortana app, but there's no way to actually replace Siri. Even launching Cortana on iOS requires a Siri shortcut. Amazon's Echo is much the same...you can add Cortana as an Alexa skill, but that's no match for just using Alexa as your primary interface. So, you have to say, "Alexa, launch Cortana" just to use it, which is awkward to say the least. Android is a more open ecosystem, where you can set whatever assistant you want, but in the home automation space, people are using Google Home devices not Android. And to my knowledge, GH provides no support for Cortana whatsoever.

    So yeah, unless Microsoft wants to build out its own hardware ecosystem, which seems increasingly unlikely, it looks like Cortana will have to be content as a feature of the other assistants for the time being.

    As I've mentioned previously, I'd like to see assistants become an interoperable platform of their own, much the same way most hardware peripherals are today. I can use any keyboard or mouse with just about any computing device I want, and it should be more or less the same with assistants. I should be able to "pair" an assistant (even multiple assistants, why not?) with a device, and there should be some basic universal API between the device and assistant that I can then use to interact (for instance, the wake word, volume up/down, mute, etc.). From there, the device is really just relaying those commands to a cloud service and returning a response, which should be managed by the assistant through the device, until another command is issued. Imagine being able to set up Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and even Bixby with any smart speaker in your home, and then freely navigating between any of them, even from one command to the next.

    Of course, that's unlikely to happen anytime soon. Players like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Samsung have no incentive to make it easy to use another assistant in their little walled hardware gardens. But perhaps something will shake up the status quo, and we'll see this kind of evolution in the future.

    • misterstuart

      In reply to gregsedwards:

      I have the HK Cortana speaker, and a Google Hub and Mini devices in my house. I like them all, but I actually do prefer using Cortana over Google. The voice is more pleasant, and for some things, it seems to recognize my voice better and give more accurate information. It's sad that MIcrosoft never gave Cortana the marketing push and chance that it clearly deserves.

    • rmlounsbury

      In reply to gregsedwards:

      This does highlight Microsoft being late to the mobile market and failing to establish a mobile platform.


      As much as I liked Windows Phone and that OS I can't help but wonder if Microsoft instead came out with a custom version of Android built around Microsoft products and services if they wouldn't have been more succesful in the mobile market. With an Android rooted Microsoft mobile device they don't have the app problem which was one of the keys that led to the platforms demise.


      If Microsoft had that Android platform where MS Launcher was the default a long with Cortana, Outlook, Edge, Office Mobile. Then, maybe, Microsoft's mobile platform could have survived and they could have still been able to make everything available to Google's Android and iOS.


      I do still hope Microsoft considers making an Android Surface handset built the way I noted above. I'd buy it.

    • ponsaelius

      In reply to gregsedwards:
      You can add Cortana as an Alexa skill in the USA. Nowhere else.


  2. SYNERDATA

    Cortana needs to be able to hold intelligent conversations. It is like Microsoft is copying those who aren't doing things right instead of just developing what is needed and ultimately coming.

  3. falken

    May be, will users trust if there will be something like "Hey Cortana, get out (for a while)"?

    ... also, voice UI (the more without real AI) isnt good as sole /only interface to anything ... because its SLOW and confusing if user has no possibility to combine rich (and still) visual display and must remember what ALL (s)he heard... its some kind of very narrow band stream of messages/commands where people must be really WELL focused on spoken things (you know it from BUS for example: "dont talk to driver!"), we humans have probably far better developed visual signal processing than audible (except the ART, of course...)

  4. Shel Dyck

    what I used Cortana quite heavily for was voice command control of messaging in my vehicle. It was absolutely wonderful to deal with voicemail, emails and texts keeping both hands on the wheel. I kept waiting for that windows mobile experience to transfer to the desktop or android. It never materialized.

  5. bart

    "Microsoft notes. “They are using their digital assistants to perform small, uncomplicated tasks – the three most commonly cited tasks were searching for a quick fact, asking for directions and searching for a product/service.”


    This explains why MS is unable to roll out Cortana world wide...... ?‍♂️??‍♂️??‍♂️

  6. ponsaelius

    Microsoft mentions Cortana should have been the headline.


    Outside the USA the question is "What is Cortana? Never seen it here."



  7. Xatom

    Always listening, always on. The definition of utter insanity.

  8. Bats

    I don't believe this ..... "report".....by Microsoft. They are not very good with excuses, nor with their "use" of language. Remember the time, when Sony was bragging about how actual Playstation there were? What was Microsoft's response? They response was some number of units shipped.


    I reading this report and saying to myself "COME ON.....52% voice skills or actions through a smart home speaker, i.e. “Hey Cortana, play “Morning Edition”? COME ON. LOL...in this report (fake news), they're trying to make it seem or confuse people that Cortana is actually being used. LOL!!! That's funny. These tactics are just hilarious.


    19%? 19% use Cortana? I bet you that 19% only consists of those people in the Redmond and the Windows Central office (LOL). I don't believe this 19% stat at all. If they are using Cortana, then where? Microsoft is trying to give the impression that they are only 17% back from Google and Siri. Not just that, but 6% back from Alexa? Are you f'n kidding me?


    This hilarious and obvious FAKE NEWS.


  9. jackson123

    Hello,

    Thanks for your info.

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