This is how Cortana got started and why more countries will get Microsoft's assistant soon
Cortana is certainly the most headline worthy new feature of Windows Phone 8.1, even though the OS update has much more than a personal assistant going for it. With comparisons to Siri and Google Now, the Halo-inspired voice helper garners some needed headlines for Microsoft as they continue their entrenched battle in mobile.
Recently, Marcus Ash, who is the group program manager for Cortana on Windows Phone, was seen on camera explaining the priorities for Cortana, including entertaining the idea of putting it on other operating systems like Android or iOS. That controversial position was later clarified in a follow-up comment on our site, alleviating some concerns of Windows Phone adherents.
Today, in a second video, Ash explains the origins of Cortana's development, and how the team is "shocked by the international reaction."
In the video, recorded last week during a Q&A session at Microsoft's main campus, Ash reveals quite a few interesting bits about Cortana's beginnings:
Regarding the notion of Cortana being labeled as a beta, Ash confirms that it is due to the massive amounts of data needed to hone Cortana's skills, to make the AI as competitive if not more than Apple's Siri and Google Now:
Subsequently that beta tag should be expected to stay "through the first wave of consumer devices."
Later on in the video, Ash discusses the complicated and thorny issue of rolling Cortana out to non-US markets. According to Ash, even though Cortana is currently only for those in the US, half of its users are now global. That figure "shocked" the Cortana team because it means users had to change their region to enable the voice assistant, which demonstrates how eager people are to adopt Cortana today. Consequently, the Cortana team is now re-thinking their rollout plans:
As a result of outpouring of enthusiasm from users, Microsoft is considering a wider deployment of Cortana to other regions even before it is correctly localized, perhaps dropping the beta tag for those users and calling it "Alpha or something":
The origins of Cortana, including the original Halo inspiration, is certainly an interesting bit of trivia. Perhaps even more attention-grabbing is the mass adoption of Cortana by non-US users. While it's not hard to enable Cortana on phones outside of the US, it's not something most casual users would engage in, or at least that's what the Cortana team thought. More specifically, it's perhaps odd that non-English speaking users will want to use, with frequency, an English-based voice assistant. With Cortana arriving in China and the UK in the "coming weeks," at least some of that frustration will be eased, though Microsoft clearly has a lot of work left ahead.
Source: Mark Guim (Twitter)
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.