Cortana, the digital personal assistant that comes with each and every copy of Windows 10, is now available for Apple iOS, Android, and Cyanogen OS devices.
The news was announced on stage Wednesday at Business Insider Ignition conference in New York City.
The idea, Microsoft says, is to turn every phone into a Windows 10 user’s best friend, whether or not that phone is running Windows.
And it means that Microsoft has beaten Apple to the punch with providing a digital personal assistant that works across desktops, tablets, and smartphones — while Apple’s Siri is still stuck on the iPhone and iPad.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft’s Windows phones have had Cortana, based on the character from the “Halo” series of video games, since 2014. But since hardly anyone has a Windows phone, globally speaking, odds are strong that this is new to you.
What Cortana can do for you
On a Windows 10 PC, tablet, or smartphone, Cortana works a lot like Apple’s Siri — you can have her set reminders, check your calendar, or answer basic questions.
With these new smartphone apps for iOS, Android, and Cyanogen, Cortana gets a lot more handy.
If you set a location-based reminder from your desktop to grab milk when you’re near the grocery store, for example, the Cortana app will buzz in your pocket once you’re there.
There’s also a neat, Google-like feature that lets Cortana track packages and keep you appraised of their progress across all devices, once you enter the tracking number.
But possibly the best part is a very Apple-esque feature, whereby if you miss a call on your phone, Cortana on your Windows 10 PC will light up with a notification and the option to send a text back to the caller. We haven’t had a chance to try it, but if it works as advertised, it could be very useful.
Furthermore, Microsoft brags that Cortana is always learning from your preferences, meaning that the more you use her on any device, the smarter she can get, and the better recommendations she can provide.
The fine print
But not all smartphones are created equal.
On Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10 Mobile, Cortana can do anything from turn Aeroplane Mode off and on to opening apps for you, the same way Siri can on an iPhone. You can also activate her by saying “Hey, Cortana” out loud.
But on iOS and Android, Cortana is much more limited. You have to actually open the app to invoke her, and she can’t do much of that other stuff. You can use “Hey Cortana” from the Android home screen, but not while you’re in an app. It won’t work in iOS at all.
All of that said, Cortana on Cyanogen is much more interesting.
Cyanogen, a startup that wants to “take Android away from Google” with a custom version of the operating system, has a pre-existing but low-key relationship with Microsoft. Rumours persist that Microsoft invested a ton of cash into Cyanogen on the sly, in fact.
Initially, Cortana will only be available for the cult hit OnePlus One phone, running Cyanogen, but Microsoft promises more Cyanogen phone support coming down the line.
On Cyanogen, Cortana gets all of her superpowers back, including “Hey Cortana” and control over the hardware, same as you can on a Windows phone.
It means that Microsoft’s relationship with Android just got that little bit more interesting — and it keeps the door open for Microsoft turning Cyanogen into its own, official version of Android down the line as an escape hatch from a failed mobile strategy.
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