What Microsoft’s Cortana Offers Compared To Siri and Google Now
Windows Phone 8.1 is here, and with it comes the new voice assistant Cortana, named after an artificial-intelligence character in Microsoft’s “Halo” video games. Microsoft released this voice assistant as a developer preview on Monday.
Though still in its early beta stage, Cortana is packed with intuition combining Siri’s personality with Google Now’s knack and a few useful tools of its own to prove itself exactly the viable competitor to its rivals.
While Cortana may not be the best of the three cyber-assistants out there, it surely does pull the most weight of all the additions to the Windows Phone 8.1 keeping the company’s Windows Phone OS in the game.
Now let’s look at this new digital assistant in detail.
Hands-on Cortana for Windows Phone 8.1
There are two ways to access Cortana: by tapping on its Live Tile, or by pressing the Capacitive Search button below the screen. It will then ask you your name and how to pronounce it.
At Startup, Cortana will ask permission to scan your email for flights and other events to remind you about. Unlike Google Now which automatically picks up itineraries sent by your travel companions, Cortana asks whether you’d like that flight tracked.
It will also ask permission to access your contacts, your location and even your Facebook account, and if you’d like to experience Cortana to its fullest, allow this.
Next, Cortana will ask you a brief questionnaire, such as what you like to do in the evening and what types of information interest you most. That is for the purpose to bringing you the content based on your preferences.
Once you launch the Cortana app, you’ll see a variety of topics that have been picked on your stated interests. These topics include: Daily Routine (traffic and the “daily glance” of news headlines), News (spanning all sorts of topics), Eat + Drink (meal suggestions), Travel (a trip planner), and Weather.
Cortana offers more ways to set reminders. Just like Google Now, she lets you set reminders based on time and your location; for instance she can remind you call to your friend when you come back home from office in the evening.
Unlike Siri and Google Now, Cortana also lets you set people-based reminders. Let’s say your friend John has recently been married. Now, you can ask Cortana to remind you to congratulate John the next time you call, text or email him. That’s cool!
You can also choose specific times during which Cortana will intercept a call for you, especially for bedtime or during a critical business meeting.
However, you can set exceptions for a privileged Inner Circle of friends, or emergencies defined by repeated calls.
Cortana Versus Siri and Google Now
Now, as you’ve got a glimpse of the main features of Windows Phone’s new voice-activated assistant, we put this early version to the test to check whether it can stand up to Apple’s Siri and Android’s Google Now. But remember that, this is an early summary and we’re reserving our final verdict until after Cortana enters the mainstream.
We took all the three virtual assistants through some basic tasks — spoke the same commands to Cortana on a Nokia Lumia Icon (running Windows Phone 8.1), Siri iPhone 5S (running iOS 7.1), and Google Now on a Motorola Moto X (running Android 4.4.2).
Below are some of our observations after we put the three services in practice:
- Of the three voice assistants, Siri is the best at handling punctuation commands. Microsft needs to improve Cortana in understanding punctuation when composing messages by voice. It lacks in inserting the respective symbols for comma and question mark, and adds words instead. Google Now, on the other hand, inserts symbols for a few while misses out on others.
- Siri and Cortana will vocally cancel an alarm, but Google Voice will not accompalish the task. Instead it takes you to search results for that term.
- Cortana and Siri can manipulate system settings, for instance, toggling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off and on. But, Google Now can’t.
- Google Now and Cortana work well when it comes to tracking a flight. However, Siri can’t post results on a card, but return the query with a Web search.
- As said earlier, Cortana simply dominates when it comes to setting reminders based on a person or a location. However, Cortana requires you to manually add relationships. With other two voice assistants, you can just speak the relationship simply.
- Cortana and Google Now can recognise a songs being played, but Siri doesn’t have this capability yet.
- Cortana alone remains contextually aware and lets you ask follow-up questions. Siri and Google Now treat follow-up requests as a new query.
- Microsoft has programmed Cortana to be the cheekiest of the three. She will sing you song (though it’s kind of creepy), tell you a joke, and even respond to your gratitude.
Of course, Cortana is off to a strong start and offers a few special tricks Google Now and Siri can’t pull off, but there are still some soft spots Microsoft does need to strengthen, especially Cortana’s ability to recognize spoken punctuation.
For the most part, as we can see, the three voice assistants are mostly on even footing. Now it’s just a race to see who develops a range of truly innovative features to surpass their competitors.
Gohar is the lead editor at TechFrag. He has a wide range of interests when it comes to tech but he's currently spending a big chunk of his time writing about privacy, cyber security, and anything policy related.