Microsoft is steadfast in adding Cortana to as many endpoints as possible. Recently, Cortana integration with To Do finally began as Wunderlist rides off into the sunset. On iOS, Cortana already "lived" in Outlook by alerting you to travel times to meetings scheduled in your calendar, but it appears Microsoft has more plans for the digital assistant.
Sources shared with us that starting with version 3.3 of internal builds there is now the option to have Cortana read back emails found in the focused inbox, i.e. the important ones.
The feature is quite smart. When the phone is connected to an external Bluetooth connection like speakers, headphones (ahem, Surface Headphones), or even your car a virtual button will appear in the inbox to play new emails. There is also a time estimate of how long the playback will take.
From there, a very natural sounding Cortana will begin reading your emails. Users can skip emails by swiping at any time, and at the end of each reading Cortana waits for a user response like "delete," "reply," or "flag." If nothing is said the assistant moves on to the next email.
On screen, there are buttons to pause, flag or delete. The whole screen is taken over by Cortana for situations where one may be distracted or merely using headphones.
The assistant seems smart too. Cortana does not just read the entire email contents, but it can pick up text and pertinent information in the email. If there is a lot of formatting and graphics in the email like an Amazon order, Cortana notifies the user that "there is a lot of visual content" that's best viewed on a screen.
Overall, it's quite well done and there looks to have been a lot of effort to make the whole experience feel natural versus a straightforward on-screen narrator.
The readback feature seems to be very polished already, so while there is no ETA on when it will be released to the public it does not look too far off.
We're sure to hear more from Microsoft in the coming weeks as they prepare to roll out the feature to general audiences.
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