Cortana will soon be able to read Outlook email to you

Cortana email management iOS
Cortana email management iOS (Image credit: Windows Central)

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.

Cortana Play My Email

Cortana Play My Email (Image credit: Daniel Rubino/Windows Central)

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.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • Sounds cool, wonder when those outside the US will see it. Here in Australia, Cortana is a very gimped version of Windows 8.
  • No Cortana where I live, in any shape or form...
  • Lucky you, that means you do not have to go through hoops to disable it.
  • There is some good use cases for Cortana. Like when she tells you how much battery you have on your Surface Headphones.
  • Like anyone actually bought those.
  • Oh very cool indeed. Now, if they can add this feature for text messages. Unfortunately, MS does not have a messaging app on Android that integrates with Cortana, unless they allow Skype to receive text messages, like FB messenger
  • Yeah, I'm curious if they will ever do that. Besides Cortana I guess the question is what other value can they bring to an SMS app for Android? Tough question. SMS apps have stiff competition on Android and not sure Microsoft could go for the long haul to make theirs the best while also doing something different.
  • Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if they released one not even trying to be the best just as a continuation to bring their Android experience full circle. They technically do already have one, just not in the US. It's called Microsoft SMS Organizer.
  • You can dow loaf the apk file and it runs just fine on my Galaxy S8+ here in the US.
  • There is an app called SMS Organizer by MS. It is very useful. It filters your messages in 3 tabs(Personal, Transactions and Promotions) like Gmail. They can integrate cortana with this app. Also, Cortana can read your messages as MS Launcher widget.
  • how do you get this app? i don't see it in the Play store.
  • Not available in the US, unfortunately
  • Yeah, and for those in the US looking to sideload it, last I tried it required a phone number to activate and won't let you change the country of that number to the US so there was still no way to use it.
  • It's working for me in California. It allowed my US phone number with no hassle
  • Wow. A Microsoft App not working in US...
  • Does anybody actually use the focused inbox?
  • Same question here.
  • Me. Every day.
  • I do and love it, has always worked well for me.
  • Maybe an article about the merits of the focused/others segmentation? And how to set it up, perhaps? In my case, it's pretty random what goes where, whether it be advertising or order confirmations...
  • Same. I've never understood how they choose what goes in the Focus inbox and always check the Other box to make sure I'm not missing anything anyway. Seems to defeat the purpose.
  • I certainly don't---mostly because it's mostly wrong. BUT, I might reconsider setting it back up for this feature. The only reservation I have is that I do NOT want to have to touch the device to interact. It should give me an option for 100% voice control, hands-free.
  • I use it. It definitely getting better And you can train it
    to prove it overtime.
  • cortana on android to handle sms entirely by voice like on win10 mobile is what I keep waiting for
  • Ditto. Just got a S8 this week and set up Cortana today. On my old Lumia 640, Cortana could read texts if connected to Bluetooth and could I'd songs that were playing in the environment. Both those features appear to be gone now.
  • It doesn't have to be connected to Bluetooth in order to read texts or do pretty much anything else Cortana is capable of doing. I have my device set so that Cortana is always on, all the time. I can be standing in the middle of a room while my device is on a counter and I can interact without ever touching it. THAT is what needs to be expanded upon, in my opinion. I don't need to buy another stupid device. I HAVE plenty of Cortana-enabled devices. Microsoft needs to make Cortana work more integrated and more hands-free.
  • This. The hands free experience on Android with Google assistant is absolutely horrible. Same with Bixby. They don't notify you of who is calling, they don't notify you of incoming text and give you to options to read or respond. In addition, half the time they do not respond when called upon instead you get a message saying Google can't be reached right now. When they do respond, half of the time they have forgotten your contacts so you can't make a call hands free. It's literally how I would have expected hands free tech to work 10 years ago. Absolutely maddening and will be the death of me. Cortana from 3 years ago was so far ahead of where both GA and Siri are today. As far as the feature discussed in the article, I can't stand focused inbox so this won't apply to me. Hopefully it works well for those that use it though.
  • That option isn't available on Android? I'm sticking with my Lumia 950.
  • Nah, probably not.
  • The only downside to this is not being able to remain completely hands-free. I shouldn't have to touch the device at all---especially while driving. This is why the Cortana experience on my Windows phones is completely unmatched by any other platform. I can be driving and interact with it without ever taking my hands off the wheel or looking away from the front of the car. I can be working on sets for a show and still interact with my device while it's sitting on the edge of the stage. Being able to do the same with emails would be great as long as I do NOT have to touch the device. Otherwise, it pretty much defeats the purpose.
  • I agree. I bought a Razor 2 phone from the Microsoft store and spent three weeks trying to configure Cortana and MSFT services. Returned it and then bought an iPhone on Sunday. Trying to do the same on the iPhone. Let's just say my 950 hands-free experience and user interface is superior except in one context. If I receive a text on the Razor, it would appear on my Surface/PC (which also happens if my 950 was running). I could respond from my Surface/PC (but not when the 950 was running). iPhone doesn't even know I have a Surface or won't work with it via the Your Phone app on my Surface. Your Phone knows I have an iPhone but there are no controls. Whereas for the Razor I could share/sync photos and texts with my Surface/PC.
  • This just seems like another pointless bifurcation on Microsoft's part, given their Cortana "retrenchment"... Which, for the record, I have come to abhor that r-word... Since Microsoft effectively abandoned Cortana in the consumer space...I've got the Harman Karon Invoke paperweight as evidence... I'm now supposed to use Alexa/Google for personal stuff (e.g., walking me through a recipe), and remember to use a Cortana for work stuff? When is Microsoft going to get it... In 2018/2019, you don't cater to either the consumer or the business silos... At the end of the line, it's the same people!
  • I think the only one who calls it "Cortana retrenchment" is you though. When we used it with Windows phone it was because Chris C of Microsoft was quoted as literally saying that, so not sure how it applies here. They're not retrenching Cortana, they're creating more endpoints for it. Literally the opposite meaning of retrench. Nothing here is being reduced.
    "Since Microsoft effectively abandoned Cortana in the consumer space..."
    How? Cortana is sold as the main feature in Surface Headphones. Xbox + HK Invoke now works. Alexa + Cortana now works. Cortana is now hugely integrated into Android Launcher. Microsoft To Do literally got Cortana yesterday for Insiders. You can even buy the GLAS thermostat at a Microsoft Store (or order it online). And now we reported that multi-user voice support is coming to too for speakers and you're responding to an article about a brand-new feature for iOS. Curious where you get the idea that they have "abandoned" Cortana in the consumer space? Sure, music ID is gone - but that feature wasn't used by PC users. Windows Phone is gone, but that's a different story. To prove this point you need to demonstrate more features/endpoints being cut or reduced vs being created. I don't think you can show that, can you?
    "When is Microsoft going to get it... In 2018/2019, you don't cater to either the consumer or the business silos... At the end of the line, it's the same people!"
    I'd say that's exactly how they are treating Cortana now. It's a productivity assistant. You're responding to an article about a brand-new feature coming to iOS for those people you mention.
  • Where is the $20 speaker?
  • Where's the well thought out, reasoned response that counters what I stated above about what has happened this year?
  • But I want everything Cortana free right now. Now there.
  • Amazing how Microsoft can do no wrong.
  • That's not a argument and I never said or implied that either. I stated facts that happened this year and anyone is free to counter them. I just don't buy this narrative of the depressed, mopey commenters here about Cortana being killed off especially on an article announcing a new feature.
  • A discontinued speaker and a thermostat. I mean, really? Cool, it'll read emails. Possibly. If you think there's actually an overall coherent development plan to Cortana... well I know they legalized it in MA Dan, but dude, back down off that stuff.
  • Let me re-state for this year: Surface Headphones w/Cortana. Xbox + HK Invoke now works. Alexa + Cortana now works. Cortana is integrated into Android Launcher. Microsoft To Do got Cortana yesterday. Cortana 3.0 for iOS/Android. iOS Outlook does Time-to-Leave through Cortana. GLAS thermostat. Multi-user voice support. iOS Outlook email reading support/actions via voice. Cortana integration with Office 365. Many/most new laptops shipping with FF mic array for Cortana. The idea that you see all of that and take away (1) retrenchment (2) there is no strategy (3) Microsoft is not investing in Cortana is such a massive steretch of logic. It makes no sense. And compared to what? When Cortana was on Windows phone in 2014 that was somehow good, but now in 2018 when it's going everywhere Microsoft can put it, Microsoft is giving up? Delusional. You can quibble about the strategy. You can argue about whether Cortana is any "good". You can complain about regional availability. We can definitely debate if any of this will work. But let's be clear here that for 2018 Microsoft is clearly doing a lot with AI/ML and Corrtana for all its prodcuts. You can't just dismiss all of that above with "pfff...a speaker and a thermostat, lame". Also, I will freely exercise my right to vape pot here in MA and I will do so often, completely, and enjoyably as a free Bostonian (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
  • So 5 years of development... We've got some headphones that aren't going anywhere (come on, you don't honestly believe that'll be a successful product). A discontinued speaker integrates with a product that already had voice control at one point. You can use one voice assistant to use another one, that'll take off like a rocket (holy kludge). They updated their app for iOS & Android to do some other stuff I guess, I dunno what any of that is. There's a nifty thermostat, because. And Office integration, maybe that'll integrate with the thermostat after its discontinued? I mean I get you're rah rah for this stuff, but if I gave you a few billion dollars and 5 years, would you come back with a thermostat & text to speech email? It's just kind of silly. Oh, and vape away bro, no judgement here lol
  • I don't know if the invoke is discontinued but I can buy one at the Microsoft store for $49. Maybe I should buy one before it runs out of stock. What I do know is that everyone recognizes the superior sound when they walk in my office. and cortana is flawless on the Invoke
  • Keep in mind these new devices are most likely not selling well. I've never seen a Cortana device anywhere.
  • Irrelevant to the discussion though, which is about Is Microsoft doing more with Cortana in 2018 compared to any other year not whether sales are going well - a separate discussion/issue/concern.
  • He got the idea from Surur(MSPU)...
  • And yet every other assistant out there is miles better...who on earth bought the Harman speaker or that thermostat?Why on earth would anyone use Cortana to use Alexa to use something instead of just using Alexa directly?...I do appreciate your commitment to anything from MS, good or bad, but this is out of any reality...Cortana had a good start once...but now is completely useless on Windows, Android, IOS or that speaker that was so heavily price cut because it sold sooo well.
  • I bought the invoke at I also have the Alexa speaker. The Invoke produces far superior sound. Especially in a room of about 12 by 12. if the room gets a lot bigger, the sound becomes "lost". In my office measuring about 15 by 15, the sound "fills the room". What I wish is they would allow the FF mics to listen to another or more invoke speakers, "measure the room" and then provide stereo music to the speaker array. don't know if you could create a 5.1 speaker array unless you could somehow tell Cortana which speaker was the center channel. Here is an odd thing My wife and I were driving out of the city. We were using Spotify on my phone. Then my office manager (at the office) said hey Cortana play music. The next thing we knew, our Spotify stopped working. Apparently, W10M was considered "second class" in the spotify connected device world of Cortana. Spotify transferred control of the account from my wives (or mine) phone to the Invoke speaker.
  • Reading texts cool. Reading email... meh.
  • So MS is not killing off Cortana?