When Apple launched iOS 6 with Siri, people thought that it would end up being the absolute standard in phones to have an intelligent voice assistant. Google took that expectation to heart and came out with what may have been an even better voice assistant, Google Now.
Microsoft is now entering the personal assistant market as well, with Cortana. Cortana has technically been rumored for a while after a leaked photo came out showing a phone with an app called zCortana. Since no one knew what zCortana was, few people paid attention to it. However, we now know that the application was an early version of Microsoft's new personal assistant, which will be on all Windows Phones moving forward.
Taken from Halo Video Game
The name Cortana actually comes from Microsoft's Halo series in which Cortana was an artificially intelligent character. Unlike Siri or Google Now, reports are suggesting that Microsoft wants to hard-wire Cortana into almost all of the core Windows Phone features.
Information provided by Cortana will be coming directly from the Satori knowledge base that currently powers Microsoft's Bing search engine. Not only will Cortana become an integral part of Windows Phone, it will also end up on the Windows OS and Xbox.
Early screenshots of Cortana are simplistic and only show off a basic screen with service and notifications options. However, Microsoft has stated that once Cortana goes live, it will adapt to its user, providing a unique experience and even predicting questions and answers.
It is likely that Microsoft will include the personal assistant in Windows 8.1, which is set to offer a notification center along with other UI changes. Coming Windows phones should also feature Cortana.
Battle of the Personal Assistants
Cortana is significantly different from Siri in that it does not rely on a user to input a full question before suggestions or answers are displayed. Although this is different from Siri, Cortana is actually quite similar to Google Now which also "predicts" user input.
Again, like Google Now, Cortana will reportedly be able to become truly personalized and include information upon launch in a way that is similar to Google Now. Right now, Google's personal assistant can pull up information such as the weather or transit based upon the time of day as well as previous searches.
Siri has always been more of a Question/Answer service to allow for hands-free searching, but does not personalize itself to a user like Google Now and Cortana. The issue for Apple has been centered in the fact that Google Now actually performs better than Siri for some regular searches, which has resulted in many technology news publications declaring that Google Now is the best personal assistant.
With a new competitor on the scene, it will be interesting to see how Cortana stacks up against Siri and Google Now. Even if Cortana is amazing, Windows Phone still has other issues that it must deal with before it can attract users, namely a lack of applications.