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Cortana gets smarter with new 'scenes' and 'rules' for smart home setups

For those who use Cortana across Android, iOS, or Windows 10 and who also have smart home accessories like Ecobee, Hues, GLAS, Wink, Insteon, and more Cortana is starting to get more sophisticated.

Two new areas have shown up under Cortana > Notebook > Manage skills > Connected Home dubbed "scenes" and "rules."

Scenes lets the user pair together various smart home functions like lights in the living room with the thermostat to work in tandem with one single command, e.g. "Arriving home" where the lights turn on, and thermostat goes to a pre-set temperature.

There seems to be no limit on the complexity of the scene as Cortana walks you through the process asking if you want to add things in addition to naming the scene.

Rules are more of a one-time command but with conditions. For example, I can tell Cortana to set my thermostat to X temperature in X minutes or at a specific time. The same applies to lights or any other connected smart home accessory that you want to function, but with conditions.

As to who is getting this feature it is not clear. I noticed it about two days ago, and it works across all my devices including my Android phone and iPhone. However, not everyone is getting the feature just yet, which suggests either A/B testing or only general beta testing associated with some Cortana Insider programs (Android and iOS both have programs).

In testing, the rules and scenes feature work well, and it should be perfect for those who want an "If this, then that" (IFTTT) type system for their house. At the very least, it signals Microsoft's continued attempt to make Cortana more powerful even as its role is shifting.

Microsoft has added a lot of functionality to Cortana in the last few months including To Do integration, reading emails in iOS, multi-user support, overhauled apps for iOS and Android, skill set for enterprise, Alexa integration, and it now works with Xbox.

Thanks, @Pairadyce, for the confirmation!

Daniel Rubino
Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

77 Comments
  • Where are all the people who were saying that Cortana will be limited to Office 365 only in the future??
  • Who are all these people? First I've heard of that.
  • Everyone is saying she's dead. The usual people who don't see through sensationalistic and ill-intentioned headlines, of course
  • I think it's more that it just goes without saying anymore. The head of Cortana quit for a reason.
  • Maybe, just maybe he just wanted to start another startup and got tired of company life. It happens. I kinda know him (know a cousin of his wife) and I am pretty sure he would do just that. Accompli/Outlook wasn't even his first startup lmao
  • He was on the job for < 6 months. Sometimes, a person is just not the right one for the job.
  • She is dead, simply because she really only exists in the US, UK and Canada. The European versions are incredibly bad. Lack of recognition (50 % is an optimistic guess), lack of features. Does this scenes skill even work with stuff that is not Hue or one of the top 3 brands for smart homes? Alexa works with everything and understands everything. I don't see a reason to switch, especially since I still can't change the fricking activation word for Cortana. No, "Hey Cortana" is BS.
  • "...really only exists in the US, UK and Canada...." don't make me laugh Cortana has never existed in a complete form outside the US and Microsoft have actually taken things OUT of Cortana in the UK so it's no surprise that this feature is US only. So is Cortana dead, no she was only alive in the US!!!
  • Usually, Cortana features are not updated in legacy Windows based operating systems, only available on Android. For example, this Scenes and Rules stuff is only available on Android in Canada, not on legacy Windows where there is no such thing as connected home. I was thinking that it is not available at all, but since now I have been forced to purchase an Android device to configure my smart switches (triggered from GLAS Thermostat with Cortana voice commands), I just checked on that and found out that it is an Android only feature. I am happy though that now I will be able to tell cortana to turn all the lights on and off at once rather than spend 15 minutes talking to it, for turning the lights on / off one at a time :)
  • Sorry, my bad... that new Android device had defaulted to US region. Nothing is available in Canada except jokes and weather. And since Cortana insists on providing weather in Fahrenheit, it is completely useless. Microsoft has some serious architecture issue with regionalization... it takes them a long time and it turns out buggy. Both on client and cloud. If I save my profile preferences on one device, then they should get applied automatically on any new device... at heart, they still think like windows forms, though they are trying web and cloud for 20 years.
  • Nothing happened with Cortana in my neck of the woods since 8.1other than reduced functionality gimping it beyond use, so about 8 years now?
    Can't blame anyone for thinking it was dead, especially where MS is concerned, 8 weeks is a long time in the digital age, 8 years is an eternity.
  • Hey Daniel, if you're looking for an exact thread, check your site's articles "Cortana not competing with Alexa or Google" according to Satya, I can't remember the exact headline. Any, as usual, there was a kneejerk reaction to a quote made by Satya. This people spreading that bit of misinformation
  • @Daniel - like with Windows Mobile, Groove, The Band it seems Windows Centra ldoesn't acknowledge the press releases Microsoft puts out like the rest of the press do. Everyone this past week reported Cortana as we know it is dead and will not be a consumer facing assistant, isntead it will just power MS Cognitiver Services APIs. How about you guys clarify for the consumer segment and don't pull a 180 in a year and go with the narrative that it isn't over for Cortana.
  • Except.. it was never reported that Cortana is dead, just that she's not going to be competing against Google and Alexa as a personal assistant.. The narrow focus of people here is Astounding. Cortana, to consumers, is known to everyone else as Microsoft Cognitive Services, a suite of AI based API solutions. Cortana was just a product to introduce this to the consumer. She, or IT, does more than just obey commands or answer questions, She provides the AI based algorithms for a number of different things, from Image recognition, intelligent web search, voice recognition, translation, text.. etc. THAT is what Microsoft is allowing Alexia and Google to use or integrate in their platform..By doing so, Microsoft makes profit EVERY time you use Google, Alexa, or ANYTHING remotely using Cortana's services. Just like how they profit from office being used on Android, IOS and Chrome OS and Mac OS.
  • I would be happier than anyone else if they continued with Cortana Connected Home, but as I have gotten used to expecting the worst from them all the time, lately, it would not surprise me if killing all this is the latest strategy at executive level... it usually takes them 6 months for the message to percolate to people down in the ranks. Their CEO announced a week ago that they are done with it, this new software update would have been in the making for months... not to forget that they have a Cortana app for their beloved Android and it could take them months or years before they realize that they need to fire that team.
  • The Verge
    https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/18/18187992/microsoft-cortana-satya-nade...
  • But "it's dead"....
  • I saw ppl posting that too on here. Especially that low life "Bleached."
  • It's w10m all over again. She Is dead/on a life support, Bleached was right... deal with it.
  • Considering Cortana is still getting new features I'd say she's far from "on life support." Explain how adding new features before pulling the plug makes any sense? You should've stayed in school, kiddo.
  • Cortana IS dead outside the US, all the "new features" you say are being added are US only anyway!!!!
  • Doesn't everyone set their Windows handset to US region anyway?
  • Cortana is a glorified search engine in Australia, which isn't as good as the previous search in Windows 8, so there's that.
  • 1. I'm 5 years older than you, so don't you "kiddo" me, 2. Others have spoken before I could reply so you're free to make whatever you want out of it 3. Let me just recap for you really quickly Negatives: No devices
    No support from iot manufacturers
    Limited availability
    Lowest quality
    No interest in competing with other VAs Positives: It got 2 new skills in ages. Yeah, it's dead.
  • LOL, because it is true. Wow, Cortana a skill for Alexa..how joy :))) There's no reason to use it when Alexa does it all...sorry fanboy.
  • It is on life support, they have no platform for Cortana but Alexa and Google Assistant. It won't last long with that limitation.
  • No point in having these fucntions if the U.s is the only place they can be used and also,, how many devices is cortana going to support?
  • He said: Microsoft 365, not Office 365... There is a big difference. If you dont know, Microsoft is defining Microsoft 365 as the future subscription based model of everything Microsoft, including consumer subscriptions also, not just commercial.
  • This is awesome! I don't believe in giving companies access to my home devices but this still so cool.
  • You just not have any devices connected to the internet ... Including whatever device you use to comment. Imagine that
  • If you own an iOS or Android phone, you have already given a company more access to your personal space than any other stationary device ever could.
  • Pichai knew about Jeff's impending divorce before he himself knew about it because his ex uses Android... LOL
  • If you use ANY cellphone your carrier sees everything you do. Doesn't matter it it is a flip phone or Windows phone.
  • YEEESSSSSS!!! I was JUST setting up IFTTT applets yesterday. This is excellent news.
  • yes, no 'scenes' support in IFTTT... you stole my line of thought. But if I try to do it, it crashes... maybe a Canada region thing.
  • Hello Daniel, I think that, if you have the time, you should write an article or do a video talking about the most recent announcement that happened with Cortana and anything you have heard from your sources. Just explaining what it all means or any ideas of where things might go from here. As you can tell from your first comment on this post and all the comments made yesterday on the announcement post, I think it would go a long way since a lot of people are either confused or worried. Might help the community
  • I strongly agree with this.
  • Daniel, please CC Mr. Nadella, so that he becomes aware that these bad people are still releasing new features behind his back.
  • That's funny. Lol.
  • Ive smart devices not listed under Connections, like SmartLife, SmartHue. All work with IFTTT, but cortana doesn't see them, she's just another service on IFTTT. Widgets on IFTTT is only solution for now, but they're not as intuitive as connecting smart home services to cortana or Alexa. One mistake in the way you say your command and cortana keeps saying "you don't have any devices I can control" with plenty of them sitting on IFTTT.
  • I'm going to assume that is because IFTTT is not actually a service where you add devices directly to it, you connect multiple services and tell devices on those services what to do. Only thing i can base that on is the fact that all my devices are connected to a SmartThings hub, but Cortana knows of them through that hubs connection to Cortana, so perhaps IFTTT is not configured to pass on all the devices it handles.
  • I have home automation with Insteon that is listed and connected through Cortana, but it still doesn't work. Commands just open Bing searches.
  • Could be your phrasing.
    Could be that Insteon is junk.
  • Just Un connect from insteon Un plug invoke reconnect hub to internet and reconnect cortana In app then turn invoke back on. The support thread of cortana invoke for insteon at Ms answers had this month's ago.
  • I had that happen to me but subsequently realized that I was using different MS Accounts. Also, make the phrases crisp and unique... any time I included a reserved word like message or text, Cortana rejected it.
  • Insteon works fine with Cortana for me on PC and 950xl.
  • Not sure i will port stuff off of WebCore but trying out some scenes and using Rules on the fly when i know I'm leaving a room in x minutes will be cool
  • My devices are linked via Wink Hub 2, I can control them individually through Cortana, but the "Create a Scene" button in Cortana is grayed out????
  • I don't it's rolled out completely to everyone yet. I see Rules and Scenes but can't do anything with them.
  • I don't see Rules or Scenes yet eith… ah now I get it, this just like with all the other "new features" is US only!!!!!
  • It's not a button... Say Hey cortana create a scene?
  • There's a lot of elements to the AI argument, Satya wants Cortana to work other AI assistants, however at the moment all these assistants are all just voice recognition triggers or in this case a scheduled task (not really AI or even that smart and you could probably set this up on your pc using scheduled tasks). At point in all voice assistants are all too constrained, if you ask Cortana to play a song it you have to have set up a music provider(from the limited list), Alexa is prime music and I'll assume googles is google music, so if you have a Deezer subscription it simply won't play, this means that your forced to one of the prescribed services. True AI should recognise your subscription services for music access these.
  • Sounds to me he's trying to sell it off, and this is just trying to see who will believe Cortana has any use not provided by other products with a lot more penetration into the market. What's more, MS has very little skin in the game for Consumer services of this kind, and the second the Suits determine they're not making a big enough ROI, they'll cut and run. I'm not relying on any MS Consumer product, anymore, except for the ones I can't avoid with the current investment, like Windows.
  • I believe you but am going to stick to it till the end... plan to stay with Windows Mobile right till the time they block email and text and phone apps. As for you, better you start wetting your fingers with Chrome PCs.. remember that it is an ecosystem, you cannot pull some pieces away and expect it to continue to work... Windows is a dead horse, no point beating it.
  • Microsoft is going to sell off Cortana? That makes absolutely no sense.
  • It's a floor wax AND a desert topping.
  • Well, Cortana isn't dead. It's been regularly updated within the Cortana App and MS Launcher. I understand why people think it's dead, but not yet. I actually hope to se Cortana updated with more new features. Whatever the reason MS has not expanded Cortana on a more global basis, hopefully they will work that out.
  • Cortana was always dead outside the US as most, if not all, features are US only!!!!
  • Cortana is just a glorified search engine outside of the US.
    Actually, she is not even very good at that compared to advances in others.
    While these features remain US Only, which is a very small percentage of the world market, Microsoft will not succeed
  • Wow great feature. Would love a cortana Insider program or a Twitter account we can connect with like todo has. With multi user and this our usage of the invoke doubled. I'd like to see Xbox intergration for scenes as a device for on off or specific apps tied to colored lighting. But this is a good start. One thing I find missing and not fluid on any assistant is a built in smart home ui. Cortana needs this windows Home Hub feature and it needs to be right. Not half asses like home kits iPhone in settings stuff or Google home hub app for Android.. Something like show me my home as a voice command brings up your devices and statuses.
  • May I ask, where in the settings do I find set up for multi-user?
  • Guessing this is US only as well?
  • Of course it is because why support 95% of the World?
  • Because you have to start somewhere. If your home country won't even use the service, why expand the range? You don't expand failures, you expand successes. Money spent on expansion into other markets would be better spent on improving the product so people in your current markets actually use it.
  • @Bleached, that's flawed logic. You gauge success in this area by usage numbers and to grow your usage numbers you have to expand your reach. If you limit your reach then you're going to have "poor" (low) usage numbers thus a "failure".
    Every market has a saturation point, the larger the market, the higher the saturation point.
  • When companies such as Google and Amazon started this stuff, they did start small, but they expanded the usable features, such as basic home control, to other countries once it was ready because it didn't really cost a lot to just remove geolocking of the features.
    New features added, sure they start small and then get expanded.
    The point here is Microsoft have not even expanded the well established basic home control to other markets. This would cost minimal amounts just to remove the geolocks on the features as they are already in the backend, just locked to certain countries.
    This proves to me that Microsoft is not serious.
    I think that is the point bleached was making in this instance also.
  • Of course, did you not know that United States is at the centre of the visible universe and that all stars revolve around it?
  • Cool. Cortana just got a feature that has existed in other competitors have had for years. Let's hope she gets more smart home support soon. (Looking at you, Smart Life)
  • I live in the MS ecosystem, yet I have a Google Mini on my desk which is great, i desperately want access to my exchange info/smart home on the same platform. Using Alexa to invoke Cortana is just a pain in the ass. Either your all in the smart home or get out. Am seriously thinking of moving over to GSuite so I can have everything in one and the best assistant too.
  • I have a HK speaker and mostly use it as a timer. When the timer would end I could say "Cortana stop" and the notification music would stop. Now when I say that Cortana says "Hmm. Something went wrong. Try again in a few minutes." and the notification keeps playing. I found I now have to say "Cortana stop the timer." and the notification stops. My point here is it would be nice if MS would somehow notify users of these changes and enhancements. Otherwise people don't know about the changes and don't use the features since they didn't know about the them in the first place. Then MS says no one is using it and they kill the entire project.
  • No one uses Cortana anyway outside of the US... Ha Ha Ha...
  • I just checked and I've got the feature. It even has "Xbox" as a connection.
  • Only matters if you live in the USA. The rest of the world has moved on.
  • If Microsoft was truly serious about this, they would release it in other markets.
    I can do scenes, complex ones at that, in Google Assistant and even in Alexa, but Cortana can not even turn on my light globe here in Australia.
    This is typical of Microsoft thinking the US is the world and not caring about the real markets.
    Sorry, but all this excitement from people that write these articles only serves to mask the truth. Microsoft is not serious about reaching the real world with products such as Cortana
  • Cool, I've just checked and it's available on my 950. Does my phone need to be switched on for rules to come into effect. For example, can I tell it to switch my lights on everyday at 6am, when my phone is usually switched off?
  • About F'n time. Now they need podcasts, ebooks and more music providers. Expand availability and create a few more devices and MAYBE, just MAYBE they might have a chance. I don't know why MS moves so slow. They announce the invoke before anybody else and then let everyone release before them. Home hub too.
  • No Cortana anymore for me. I have been a big fan for Microsoft products, but when they made me give up on Windows Phone, why should I bother to use Cortana or any other realted Microsoft App?
    I bought an IPhone, so I use Siri and will use as many IOs apps as I can, because all of that is integrated. Siri works fine in IPhone. Cortana always have problems.
    Sorry, not trying to upset anybody or be a jerk, It is just that I see no point to have a mixed envoirment. When a buy an IoT device, now must have integration to IOs.