One limitation with voice assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Assistant, and Siri, is that they aren’t great for multitasking. You can’t launch Google Assistant by voice while using an app, for example. And most iPhone users can only activate Siri by voice if their phone is plugged in.
But Microsoft appears to be working on ways to make Cortana more useful while the user is doing other things.
A recently published patent filing from Microsoft details how someone could launch Cortana with a voice command while in the middle of a phone call or any other activity on the device.
Specifically, a user might be on a call talking about a new game. The new feature detailed in the patent would let that person activate Cortana by voice while actually on the call, then get her to open a webpage with more information on the game.
The feature would still be slightly limited. Microsoft’s filing suggests the user would first need to choose specific web pages and then “pin” them to their device’s home screen. Cortana would only be able to open these web pages, and she wouldn’t be able to do anything else.
But you could use the feature while doing anything else on the device. That includes browsing the web, watching YouTube or listening to music, as well as making a call.
Microsoft also suggests the user could enable a “reading mode” which means they never have to look at their phone at all. The browser would support text-to-speech functionality, meaning you could be out on a run listening to music, ask Cortana to launch a web page, and then get her to read the page out to you.
As the filing notes: “The reading mode can be expected to be advantageous in many applications as it provides users with a way to interact with the mobile device 110 and consume content without having to read it.”
Technology companies like Microsoft patent lots of different ideas and devices, but only a handful of them actually make it to production. Just because Microsoft has patented this new version of Cortana doesn’t mean it’s going to come to phones any time soon.