Cortana combines best parts of Siri, Now

ERIC LIMER
Last updated 13:53 21/02/2014

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Microsoft is late to the game when it comes to putting a digital assistant on its phones, but the wait might be worth it.

Sources close to the project have revealed some of the specifics of Microsoft’s upcoming “Cortana” service to The Verge, and it could be the very best of Siri and Google Now.

According to the unnamed sources, Cortana - yes, the one from Halo - will debut in the upcoming update to Windows Phone 8.1 as a total replacement for the existing Bing feature.

She’ll be launchable from a hardware button, and pull in data from Bing, Foursquare, and other services to try and pull off some Google Now-ish type stuff.

She’ll also have a bit of personality, of course, which includes features like speaking animations, and even emotional responses to some queries.

And if you’re scared about all your data getting slurped, there’ll be some pretty robust options for you to control what Cortana gets to know.

The Verge reports that Cortana will have a “Notebook” feature where users can toggle options like location data, personal information, and contact information individually, to help keep whatever dirty secrets you have out of her digital hands.

Over time, Cortana will supposedly learn about you just by watching how you use your phone, picking up on your interests, where you live, where you work, and all that sort of cyber-stalker stuff. Like Google Now, but with a face.

Other features snagged from existing tech include a do-not-disturb mode, and reminders based on phrases in incoming emails. She’s like a Voltron of stuff that’s already pretty awesome.

If Microsoft can pull off a truly deft mix of the personality of Siri (well, the ideal personality of Siri) along with the pervasiveness but unintrusiveness of Google Now, it could be a step ahead of the rest of the pack. If you’re OK with a phone that talks back.

And while Cortana is starting out as a Windows Phone feature, it’s easy to see how she could change what it means to use a computer if she makes her way into Windows, or turns the Xbox One into the fabled Star Trek computer Google has been trying to pull off since day one. She could help put a lot more “service” in “devices and services.”

Who knows how well Cortana will actually work when she shows up, but you can expect to find out sometime around Microsoft’s BUILD conference in April.

For the time being, it looks like it might be safe to start getting your hopes up.

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