Apple has Siri, the name everyone has come to identify as a key weapon in Apple’s iPhone arsenal .Siri is designed as a Voice Assistant to help with common phone tasks using a voice interface. There are a few things Siri can do as conversational search, such as “where is starbucks”. Siri can also do some direct answers to conversational search such as “Who is the leader of Norway”. In some cases Siri will find an answer to questions such as “who invented the lightbulb,” and return a visual.
Google has Google Now, their own unique approach to a smartphone assistant. Google Now is designed as a Contextual Search solution. Contextual Search combines information from the device with the query of the user to better answer the user’s questions. Simply saying “Restaurant” should give the user a list of nearby restaurants. If the user has never selected anything that is not vegetarian the search should learn to stop showing choices without a vegetarian option. Contextual Search also uses data from emails, and other sources so that it can answer information like “Is my flight delayed” without having to ask for a flight number.
Cortana is Microsofts answer for their windows phone. Cortana is different, Cortana is trying to be a combination of the two. Microsoft aims to blend Voice Assistance and Contextual Search and will use data from emails, desktop search, and your interactions with her to do contextual search and push of interests around you. Cortana has some personality elements so she will still banter with the user to a limited degree.
On Cortana’s first load she asks a set of questions:
What are a couple of the most enjoyable parts of your everyday evenings?
When you think about food, what’s most important to you these days?
What are two of your main motivations for going out to an event/activity?
When you want to catch up on what’s going on in the world, which section do you go to first?
This gives a strong indication of the types of things that Windows phone’s Cortana will attempt to help with: News, Dining, Events. Cortana is expected to be part of Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft typically releases a release candidate of software to the development and partner community 2-3 months before release, and does the release to partners at one of the big conferences. In this case Build 2014 is April 2-4, and is likely to be the unveiling, and most likely the general public will get the update June 24 or July 1st
Check out this video to see Cortana hands on.