Why don't I have Cortana in Windows 10?

Microsoft has added many new features to the release of Windows 10 and one of the new technologies is Cortana. The self-declared most "personal" personal assistant, Cortana is more than just voice commands. Indeed, the service is powered by Bing and numerous cloud-based knowledge technologies from the software giant.

Considering how important Cortana is many people worldwide may wonder why they do not have it on their Windows 10 computer.

The answer is both simple and complicated. Let's talk about what it takes to get Cortana on your computer and where the assistant can be found today.

Cortana today – Where art thou?

Before we get to the intricacies of designing Cortana for each culture, here is where Cortana is live today for all Windows 10 users.

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • China
  • France
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Spain

If you are a participant in the Windows Insider Program, you get early access to new OS features and also 'beta' Cortana in newer countries. The following countries are soon getting Cortana to trial:

  • Japan
  • Australia
  • Canada (English)
  • India (English)

Later this year, Cortana expands yet again for Windows Insiders to the following countries:

  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Canada (French)

Of course, if your country is not on the above list no explanation of Microsoft's difficulties matters to you. All the same, it behooves you to read on. Learn what it takes to get Cortana on your PC in your part of the world, you may find it interesting.

Making Cortana

So why do you not have Cortana enabled on your new Windows 10 PC?

The simple answer is that Cortana is not just Bing search with voice bootstrapped onto it. If that were the case, then Microsoft would've and should've released it globally on Day 1 for Windows 10. Instead, Cortana ties deeply into a country's culture and local networks for information. This culture and language stuff is the complicated part.

If you have ever studied sociology, cultural anthropology or read National Geographic, you likely know that cultures vary widely in social interaction. Small things, like smiling too much or laughing, are all handled differently. Of course, some of these are rooted in cultural stereotypes too.

The Cortana team needs to tailor Cortana for each country and culture to behave in a way that respects their traditions and behavior. Marcus Ash, Group Program Manager for Cortana on Windows, talked about these challenges in a recent video seen below.

The most obvious example is how Cortana looks and acts in China. We wrote about Cortana aka "Xiao Na" last June:

"One instance of this change is an optional "alternative form" where instead of being a bouncing blue ball, Cortana has two eyes and "face". Microsoft tells us this has to do with eye contact being necessary for that culture for these types of applications."

Another customization for China is for Xiao Na to provide air quality information in weather cards, stats about driving restrictions, and the ability to track local TV shows and celebrities.

These abilities for Cortana in China are very helpful for residents, but you could imagine the infrastructure needed to make all of that happen. Even more perplexing is the research required to learn what is important to people in one area versus another country. Air quality information is certainly used more frequently by Zhang Wei in Beijing versus Dianne Smith in Colorado.

Similarly, Cortana bows by default in Japan because "a high level of politeness is valued." See in the image below provided by Microsoft.

Another example is who voices Cortana. Although Cortana uses some computer-generated speech, a lot of it is a recorded human being. While this sounds like a trivial thing e.g. just hire someone to read cue cards into a microphone, even this part of the task is harder than expected. Once again, Marcus Ash detailed this process in a July 2015 article on the Windows Blog:

"Voice talent is carefully considered for each market. For example, in the Chinese market, the feedback requested a personal assistant whose voice sounded like she was smiling. And in UK, customers described their personal assistant as an "English Rose," which translated to a voice that sounds easy-going, with slightly self-deprecating modesty. In each market, we focus in on certain key attributes that help us find the right voice talent for Cortana."

There is also a consideration for "local language, idioms, and speech patterns". Indeed, in my former life I was a linguist who studied idioms, specifically how the brain generates them (they are more like canned phrases then generative grammar). Any second language learner can tell you that learning common sayings or cultural idioms is one of the most challenging aspects due to their opaque meaning. For example, you cannot decipher "dressed to the nines" based on its component words.

Using idioms and common phrases are important to language and culture because the conversation feels more authentic to people. When everything is too literal, our senses go off letting us know this person is not one of us. The same applies if you are creating A.I. or in this case, Cortana.

Wrap Up

The important takeaway is that building Cortana is not just a simple flip of the switch. From voice, Cortana's avatar, idioms, and local services like smog, traffic, or restaurants all need to be considered. Cultural research, design, voice talent, programming, and testing are all required. This is very different than just text-string translation found in the OS itself.

I suppose Microsoft could release a neutered version of Cortana in other countries, but it would denigrate what Cortana is meant to represent. In this sense, Microsoft's personal assistant is less about 1's and 0's and more creating something that is lasting and profound.

Unfortunately, there is no telling how long it will take to get Cortana to all the major regions. Nevertheless, hopefully, you now know some of the obstacles that the Cortana team is challenged with in making their personal assistant a reality in your neck of the woods.

And remember, if someone asks why they don't yet have Cortana, share this article with them to let them know!

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.

  • Thing is, Canada already has alpha Cortana on WP 8.1, so transitioning that product to w10 should not have been complicated...
  • That's what I'm thinking! But maybe Microsoft just has to adapt the phone alpha to allow it to do the new PC functions like finding files and working in Edge.
  • You could be, and probably are correct. That being said, I wish they would have moved it over as an alpha product, and added features as time went on. Makes it so I can't test W10 mobile as Cortana is used daily by me
  • I have no doubt that there is definitely fine tuning to get Cortana on Windows 10. I'm hoping with the amount of Win10 users that they will be able to expand Cortanas functions here in Canada to match what she can do in the US. I have to admit I'm still confused why we're getting Cortana after China, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK anyways. While I understand they have larger populations, the regional specialization has to be a lot more difficult. Oh well, we're getting there!
  • In future Cortana articles please include that users who are not in those countries can still try it by switching their region to US etc.!
  • Exactly... You would figure they would have collected some usable usage data from the Cdn. alpha users to build their database.
  • I'm assuming that since 10 is close for Mobile, alpha will not go to beta on 8.1? Hoping it will not alpha on mobile come public release on phone for 10...
  • I agree. I think it would be a REALLY good idea for Microsoft to just release this "nuetered" cortana to the rest of the world, so in the meantime of waiting for their culturally approriate version to arrive, they can at least use the services it offers. In Canada here, I was pretty used to using cortana basically daily, and now i'm on W10 Mobile and it's rough not having Cortana. If they did this, then Microsoft could just let each country know when they are working on/ about to release the new "culture specific" version.
  • Microsoft needs to enable Cortana worldwide with English language!!!!
  • Well, that and the fact that Canada is really close to the US when you talk culture and linguistics. Arguably, the closest country in that matter even. Releasing it in Canada should have been an absolute no brainer. The US version that I'm using on my phone has no problem understanding me or offering me local suggestions so what's the hold up? It's times like these where it is really hard to like Microsoft. They'll go out and do something amazing and then half-ass the execution. Either way, I'm just using the US version of Cortana until they get their act together.
  • Great article. People who wonder why Microsoft can't just have it available in every market from the get-go really need to read this.
  • BS
    I have cortana here in Brazil, it works fine, the only side effect being that changing region breaks other things in the OS, like the Music and Videos apps. MS should let you choose to have cortana in US-English regardless of region like Siri and Google Now and every single piece of software in the world.
    Maybe some things aren't optimized, like the temperatures and distances in US's crazy units, but I can live with that, it would be a choice.
  • Completely agree, I don't want to use my local language anyway as I want Cortana to act in US english, or UK one will do as well. The point being Microsoft should not be forcing you to use a localy cultural version of Cortana, if you want to use the English one instead without screwing over all the other settings because you had to change the OS region. Microsoft needs to realise that in todays world a LOT of people move around between countries and regions, but that does not mean they want to change the language of their personal assistant just because they happen to move to a different region of the world.    
  • Agree 100% cant imagine how i would get on if i worked in China for a year and had to use the Chinese version instead of English this is a massive oversight in my opinion
  • Cortana is more than just voice commands. Yes, totally agree and she is my virtual wife, too. :))
  • "Just higher someone" seems a bit off...
  • Yeah, that's my concern that people think this is just hiring issue. So much more goes into it mostly because the Cortana team has set high standards for itself and its product.
  • No Cortana in the UK, at least on my PC. Told me so itself...
  • You may have the wrong language setup. You need keyboard, region and speech-language files all on the same language for it to work. If one of those is off, nu bueno. I had a PC that only had UK speech files, but region and keyboard were U.S. Cortana said it was not available too.
  • Same on my parents PC, strangely they had US English speech files while the rest of the machine was UK English.
  • Keyboard?! What on earth does the keyboard have to do with anything? It is bad enough that they tie it to the region setting in the phone, but this is just getting more ridiculous.
  • Not really, the language needs to match across the board for Cortana to work. Keyboard, Language and Region set to UK English is all you need. No drama!
  • Big Drama, what if I bought my laptop in the US, but live in the UK and want to use UK Cortana and UK region; why the hell should I change my keyboard to UK and screw myself over because now the symbols on the physical US keyboard no longer match the UK keyboard layout determined by windows. p.s. for people that don't know keyboards in different countries have different key layouts and some can differ to a huge degree.
  • That is totally #$%&ed up. I speak English and live in Finland with a Finnish keyboard. The PC is set to US English. So no Cortana for me. Thanks for nothing MS.
  • It's once again Microsoft being stupid as always. I just don't get why you can't set up what version of Cortana you want to use independently of the region/keyboard and other system wide settings. So in effect Microsoft is discriminating against any foreigner that might happen to live in a country other then their own; taking an example from the article; if I was Chinese and moved to the US I would likely set my region to US to get relevant results in the OS, but I still want my personal assistant to be Chinese because I am Chinese; similar with the Japan example, if I move from Japan to US, Cortana can now disrespect me by not bowing because I happen to set my region to US, which in effect changed Cortana as well; the examples could go on, but this just shows how out of touch Microsoft is with reality.    
  • You live in a very "what if" world. No wonder you have big drama lol.
  • If you never moved to a different country in your life or lived for an extended period of time in a different country I can see how it can be hard to comprehend, but in Europe it is very common to live in a different state then is your 'home' one, so in this regard tying Cortana to national borders is unwise.
  • it's not just an hypothetical case, I bought my Surface in Canada, with an US keyboard, and I live in Brazil, so I use the Portuguese language with the US-International keyboard layout. Everything works fine, I can even write accents like á or à or ã. Just Cortana bitches about, and there are no ABNT2 (brazilian keyboard standard) typecovers.
  • I don't know if you're an American, but it's usually Americans who have difficulty imagining this problem could be anything but theoretical. The issue John20212 describes is an exact description of my life over the last 20 years. It also applies to almost every person of the 80 or so I curr