As usual, Microsoft is last to the supper table, this time with their voice-enabled personal assistant program, Cortana, which will compete with Siri and Google Now. According to ZDNet, in June they had noticed an app on an early Windows Phone Operating System leak designated, zCortana - the prefix "z" indicating it was a test build. Cortana is back in the gossip this week over comments that it is moving into the "Blue" release stage for the early part of 2014.
Microsoft's Steve Ballmer hinted about Cortana back during July's big reorganization meeting that it will be more than a way for users to interact with their smartphone, but is the entire makeover of the cores services and indeed experience in future versions of the Windows phone. Ballmer said:
Our UI will be deeply personalized, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world. Our shell will natively support all of our essential services, and will be great at responding seamlessly to what people ask for, and even anticipating what they need before they ask for it.
I can just see Ballmer on his tiptoes using the words, "almost magical," as he describes Cortana to the audience - needless to say, he announced his retirement shortly after his major reorganization. Cortana will not simply answer questions of information stored on your phone, but will "broker" information from Microsoft's Bing Saton, which intelligently connects information about people, places, and things - sounds a lot like Google Now to me.
This plan to launch a program like Cortana has been in the works since 2011 and a possible explanation why Microsoft needed a massive shakeup. Ballmer has been its biggest cheerleader, but other executives said it would be between 2014 -2016 before it would appear. Bing officials had told CNET that Microsoft wanted to wait and make the announcement about Cortana after they developed sometime revolutionary rather than just evolutionary.
It will be interesting to see if Microsoft can pull this off and to see how it will affect its Windows Phone platform, especially since they recently purchased Nokia, the largest Windows Phone manufacturer. With Siri and Google Now improving on a constant basis, by the time Cortana is finally released, it may already be behind.