Last week at WWDC, Apple unveiled their upcoming desktop operating system, Sierra, and with it will finally come support for Siri on the desktop. The feature, which first made its debut with the iPhone 4S, all the way back in 2011, took a five-year journey to the desktop where you would think it would have picked up some magical tricks along the way, but realistically, it has been a slow evolution of the assistant.
During that five-year pilgrimage from the phone to the desktop, Microsoft was able to build a new version of Windows that included Cortana, the company’s own personal digital assistant. As we all know, Cortana is now available on nearly every platform while Siri is finally moving from iOS to macOS.
Cortana has acted as a glue for Microsoft, the digital assistant has helped to tie together its mobile and desktop platforms by sharing services that allow your reminders, favorites, notebook and many other bits of knowledge about you travel to all the devices you utilize. And seeing as Cortana is on iOS and Android, the fabric that is Cortana extends to non-Microsoft products which means that your content can travel with you anywhere.
Since the release of Windows 10 last July, Microsoft has been placing Cortana front and center on the desktop with an icon and a large search bar. The company hoped to make the digital assistant a core component of the desktop experience with voice and text interaction as well as embedding the functionality in Edge too.
Surveying readers on Twitter, over 60% of the respondents (550 people took the poll) said that they did not speak to their PC and of those who did, many said it was for simply testing it out once or twice or that they would use it more often but mics shipping with Windows 10 hardware is not good for this purpose; others reported that it crashed frequently resulting in less use. The point being, the majority of Windows 10 users do not use the voice component of Cortana.
With Apple now touting that Siri has come to the desktop and that this is yet another revolutionary feature of macOS, what I am more curious to see is if Apple can convince its user base that you should talk to your desktop much like you do with your phone. Microsoft has tried to make it a natural extension of the desktop experience but so far, it has felt more like a bolt-on than a native integration.
I don’t think this has anything to do with Cortana’s capabilities but more with the decades of conditioning that we use a mouse and keyboard with a PC and not our voice. Whereas we were already comfortable talking to a phone when digital assistants arrived and coupled with the limited input methods on phones, Siri and Cortana were true natural extensions for these devices.
While some may look at this as a failure for Cortana, not making voice a key component of the desktop experience, I don’t think that’s accurate. Cortana can work vocally or semantically behind the scenes to surface relevant information and is a value-ad to Windows 10.
Siri on the desktop will be Apple’s attempt at getting its users to talk to the desktop computer; will they be able to succeed or will Siri on the desktop follow the path of Cortana where the voice aspect is used sparingly? Only time will tell but as of now, Microsoft will have over a year head start and 300 million users with Windows 10 before Siri makes it to the desktop later this year with Sierra.
Of course, even with a head start, the company could be too slow to implement what it has learned from the first year of availbiltiy and forfeit it’s lead with this feature but here’s to hoping that doesn’t happen.