Microsoft just confirmed that the digital personal assistant included with Windows Phone 8.1 will be called Cortana. The new feature is Bing powered and replaces search in Windows Phone. It will launch as a Beta test.
Cortana learns more about you the more you use its search function and also tracks your inner circle of contacts. You can also turn on “quiet hours,” meaning only your closest friends and family can reach you on your smartphone. Cortana also tracks your location. Microsoft says some of the software’s features are based on interviews with real life personal assistant.
When Cortana is activated you can authorize it to scan your email and track relevant information. For example, if you mention a flight in an email Cortana will ask if it should track the flight and then push updates to you. The new service also tracks your calendar and helps you schedule upcoming events or set an alarm.
Cortana ties directly into Bing’s data and any other connected services, including Yelp. You can ask your phone for dining recommendations and then make a reservation. It also looks like you can carry on a conversation with Cortana without constantly restating your entire question. Depending on your question, the service will also bring up additional information beyond a direct answer.
Microsoft showed off another feature, which lets you ask Cortana to remind you to bring up certain subjects when talking to other people. For example, set a reminder to ask about your sister’s new puppy and Cortana will remind you to ask her the next time you talk to her. Cortana can also open up other apps, even adding TV shows to your Hulu Plus queue or jumping straight to a specific person’s Facebook profile.
Like Siri, Cortana appears to be programmed with clever answers to specific questions. Ask about the plot for the next Halo game and you’ll be told you don’t have the proper security clearance to hear the answer. The name is taken from the holographic digital assistant in the popular Halo series on Xbox, of course, though it doesn’t sound like the same actress was hired to give Cortana her voice.