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Windows Central Podcast 79: What's happening with Cortana?

We're back with another exciting episode of the Window Central Podcast. This week, Daniel Rubino and Zac Bowden talk about Microsoft's slow rollout of the Surface Book 2 15-inch to more markets, the future of Cortana and what Microsoft appears to be thinking about internally, the best of CES, the possibility of dual-screen laptops and what's coming in the next Xbox update!

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Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • It is dead, has no one been paying attention to MS the last couple of years? When a products struggles a bit and MS stops pushing it that is the sign that MS plans to kill it usually without even saying anything. Cortana will be dead in 6 months and anyone who bought an Invoke is a fool.
  • I already dropped my dependency on Cortana since they tooka away the music ID feature which indicates that this experiment is on its way to be shut down. I used to use Cortana as a read assistant (finding directions to several places, reminders, notes answer a WP call, etc. ) without touching the phone.
  • Yeah I'm done with it as well for the same reason. Music ID that is, not the "shut down" theory.
  • As a I customer I have not felt any development whatsoever since the very beginning of misses Cortana.
  • I use Cortana a LOT.  Cortana is almost always my first option to do calendar items, texting, searches.  And it's via VOICE, not text.  Here's the thing you people and Microsoft need to ask: Is Alexa a text-based system?  No.  And I can guarantee Alexa would fail it if was.  As soon as people perceive that Cortana is a text-based assistant, that's when Cortana will disappear completely from people's minds and Alexa has ZERO competition.  Fine, integrate Cortana into the OS, make her more ubiquitous across the OS and any app that is 'plugged in'.  But Cortana MUST also have a HEAVY voice component and, as you said, be more conversational and understand context.  She doesn't now.  AND, as I've said many, many time, she must be fully integrated in and of herself.  Zac said he thinks it makes more sense for Cortana on PCs than phones.  That's rubbish.  Cortana should absolutely be one AND the SAME on any device, period.  In fact, which device are you MORE likely to have WITH you at any given moment?  That's right, YOUR PHONE.  ANY device Cortana exists on becomes a microphone for Cortana to hear you with and a speaker to respond to you with.  This is completely BS about having to buy some stupid speaker just to interface with an assistant.  STUPID.  I have no less than FOUR microphones/speakers/displays on me or at my home.   INTEGRATION.  I shouldn't have to turn Cortana on or off on this device or that.  I should be able to have Cortana at the ready on ANY and ALL devices.  Cortana and the backend should be so integrated and contextual that she interprets the command, where it came from, from whom it came and where the POSSIBLE responses could go....and behave accordingly.  THAT is what NO developer has even made an attempt to accomplish, but THAT is exactly where someone will absolutely win the day.
  • I definitely agree that Cortana needs to be a strong voice assistant, and that if Microsoft is going to expand textual access, it should do so without compromising voice access.  (And realistically, it doesn't seem like text/keyboard access should affect voice access, other than perhaps in doing so, Microsoft neglects the voice side.) On the other hand, I kind of see Zac's point that being on PCs can be more important than being on phones.  Or at least that not being on phones may not in and of itself be a deal breaker. (And to be fair, even without Windows phones, Cortana is available for iOS and Android.)  Alexa after all doesn't really exist on phones but rather on devices and is just now starting to spread to PCs.  Google Assistant is on smart speakers like Google Home, and also on phones, but I wonder how much use it gets there via voice.  I know the phone is the device that's always with you, at least in public.  But the thing is, I hate using voice interaction in public.  Too "exposed", and in many situations ambient noise makes voice recognition less than optimal.  Honestly, while I saw people talking talking to Siri and Google (Now?  before Assistant) a bit early on when it was new, I haven't seen anyone talking to voice assistants in public in....years actually.  And at home, where I'm most likely to use an assistant, I tend to not have my phone near me most of the time. Definitely Cortana should be smarter about figuring out which device is the optimal one to respond.  I've got multiple Echo's, and while early on they could step on each other's toes, for a while now, they've been able to figure out which one should be the correct one to respond to a query.  I think Google Assistant is also supposed to be able to do the same across both Google Home devices and phones.  And both are supposed to be able to recognize different users by voice, though I haven't actually tested that.  In both respects, Cortana is lsgginh behind.  And I have one particuarly galling scenario now regarding the lack of integration among Cortana devices.  Last week I got an Invoke since Microsoft has continued to sell them for $99.  (Inexpensive enough that I grabbed one to play around with and compare against our Echo.)  I happen to have it in the same room as my one Xbox One that does not have a Kinect.  So it would be great if I could link them somehow so that Cortana could interact with and control my Xbox, but that's not currently possible. To be fair, I do recognize that there are issues with getting these voice assistants to work with and across a range of devices.  For example I also have Sonos speakers, and have been playing around with the (beta) Alexa/Sonos integration.  One of the annoyances with that is if you start talking to Alexa while music is playing on Sonos, it will quiet ("duck") all Sonos speakers in the house, even if they're in different rooms and not being controlled via Alexa.  It does this because it truly has no sense of where the Alexa device is relative to the Sonos speaker, and where any of these are relative to any other Echos or Sonos devices, so it doesn't know which ones it truly needs to quiet.  But in the case of Cortana capable devices like the Invoke and Xbox, I'd hope Microsoft could at least come up with a way of linking these two and setting how they should interact (i.e. respond and play music over the Invoke, play video on the Xbox).
  • Cortana doesn't recognize devices inherently aside from on the Xbox itself. Ideally, there should be a setting in Connected Home or wherever that you connect your Xbox account and from there it is able to recognize your console(s) and you should be able to name them if you have multiple. As of now that is Cortana's biggest limitation in comparison with others is that there is no concept of things unless you have another company's hub (Wink or SmartThings) and through that path you are limited to what they have a connection to. If Microsoft can enable the "things" concept in its own ecosystem, that would be a big win. "Turn on my Xbox", "Turn off my office PC", "Read my missed calls from my phone" type integration