Cortana Reminders Get a Lot More Sophisticated

Posted on February 9, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, iOS, Microsoft Consumer Services, Mobile, Office 365, Outlook.com, Windows 10 with 22 Comments

Cortana Reminders Get a Lot More Sophisticated

Microsoft this week began rolling out an update to Cortana that makes the personal digital assistant’s reminder capabilities a lot more sophisticated.

As you may know, Cortana has had reminder capabilities for quite some time: You can create reminders manually using Cortana on Windows 10 or mobile, and use time-, location-, or person-based reminders that trigger across all of your devices.

For much of 2016, Microsoft has also been testing a new Cortana capability that helps it support reminders based on email. This feature is now becoming generally available.

In case you’re wondering—I was—this release isn’t tied to the release of the Windows 10 Creators Update, or whatever, because Cortana capabilities like this are updated in the cloud. (That said, if you are using Windows 10, you will need to be on version 1607 or newer to use this functionality.)

Likewise, email-based reminders are not based on your usage of a Microsoft email client app—like Mail in Windows 10, or Outlook 2016—though this initial release only supports Microsoft email services such as Outlook.com or Outlook on the web/Office 365 commercial. Over time, Microsoft plans to more broadly support other popular email services such as those provided by Google.

Here’s how it works.

Thanks to its cloud-based machine learning capabilities, Cortana can scan the email services you’ve explicitly connected and look for explicit promises you’ve made to others. That is, when you make a commitment to get back to someone at some time frame—end of day, end of week, after the holidays, whatever—Cortana can then prompt you to create a reminder. The idea here, of course, is that the reminder will actually help you meet your commitments.

You don’t have to do anything to make this work beyond actually connecting your email accounts to Cortana. (You can do so in Windows 10 by navigating to Cortana > Notebook > Connected Services). Just send emails as always, using the web client or whatever client you prefer, and Cortana will work in the background looking for reminders to trigger.

Sometimes, these reminders will actually pop-up on the Windows 10-based PC you’re using, though I haven’t seen this personally yet. (This functionality is coming to Android and iOS in “the coming weeks,” Microsoft tells me.)

But you will also see collected reminders in the Cortana Home view, which I have seen.

From there, you can, of course, create a reminder normally.

And then those reminders will fire pop-ups on the schedule you set.

It’s worth noting, too, that once you do create a reminder, that reminder will appear everywhere, not just on Windows 10. So if you have Cortana installed on your smartphone, the reminder—and its notifications—will appear there too, of course.

Email-based reminder seen in Cortana for iPhone.

Those in the Windows Insider program will also see some subtle improvements to this feature that will be rolled out more broadly soon. For example, you can link the reminder and its notifications to a different email account. And Cortana’s ability to understand reminder prompts in email is always being improved as well, of course.

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