Meet Cortana: Microsoft’s new personal assistant

Who better to overthrow Siri,the reigning queen of voice commands, than Cortana herself. Microsoft has been criticized in the past for not having an answer to Apple’s Siri voice controls in their mobile counterpart. Now, it seems, Microsoft is fighting back, not just with a Siri-copy, but with a fully integrated voice system that links to all parts of their ecosystem. Dubbed Cortana, a popular character from the Halo series, this new component of Windows Phone will go well beyond Siri’s very limited capabilities.

Bing will play a huge roll in incorporating the Cortana system into a wide array of Microsoft products and may well be part of the “shell” Ballmer has been touting for awhile. Back in July, Ballmer wrote an open letter to employees and the media that outlined his vision for Microsoft as a devices company. Part of that future included a unifying thread that will link all Microsoft devices together, regardless of whether it was mobile or desktop or anywhere in between.

We will continue to reinvent the core “shell” of our family of devices and build upon what we have started with Windows 8. We will keep evolving our new modern look, expanding the shell so that it allows people and their devices to capture, store and organize their “stuff” in new ways. Our UI will be deeply personalized, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world. Our shell will natively support all of our essential services, and will be great at responding seamlessly to what people ask for, and even anticipating what they need before they ask for it.

Many analysts, including Mary Jo Foley, have indicated that these references to the shell were Ballmer indicating how he envisioned Cortana could bring all the devices together and make for a more seemly Microsoft ecosystem.

Image via The Verge

Rumors about Cortana have been swirling around for months in the past few days we have seen some leaks that indicate some of the actual tasks she can perform, including giving weather updates and setting up calendar notifications. It is important to note that Windows Phone already has a limited voice command feature, although this new Cortana system should easily replace it while moving well beyond its very limited capabilities. Microsoft was never interesting in making a Siri clone, they wanted to make something infinitely better and they may well have bided their time until such a system was possible.

Can’t wait to get your hands on Cortana? The new voice-enabled personal system will most likely be a part of Window Phone 8.1 update in early 2014.