Microsoft to bring its Cortana digital assistant to Android and iOS

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is bringing its Cortana digital assistant to Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iOS platforms. The company's decision to do so is part of a broader effort by Microsoft to bring features and services from Windows 10 to non-Windows smartphones.

Cortana, which first appeared last year as part of Windows Phone 8.1, will become an app that customers can download for Android phones and iPhones. The Cortana companion app will be available for Android phones at the end of June and for iPhones later this year, though Microsoft did not give a specific date. Cortana and will be deeply integrated into Windows 10. 

In a company blog post, Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of the operating systems group at Microsoft, wrote that the Cortana app for Android and iOS will have most of the functionality that Cortana has on a Windows PC or smartphone.

"You can have Cortana remind you to pick up milk the next time you're at the grocery store, and then your phone will wake up and buzz with the reminder," he wrote. "You'll be able to track a flight using Cortana on both your phone and your PC, and get the updates on the device that you're on so you don't miss anything."

The Cortana app will bring in data from a Windows 10 PC to other devices, and any changes users make on one device will be reflected when they use Cortana on any of their other devices. The app will help users complete tasks they begin on PCs on their phones later on.

However, Belfiore noted that there will be certain Cortana features that work on Windows phones that won't work on Android devices or iPhones--for example, those users won't be able to toggle settings or open apps. Similarly, he noted, the ability to start Cortana hands-free by saying, "Hey Cortana," requires special integration with the device's microphone, so that feature will be limited to Windows phones and PCs.

Although Microsoft launched Cortana first for phones it will be a part of Windows 10 PCs. Microsoft has said the service will let users search for things on the web or on PCs, set reminders, dictate emails and toggle device settings. The digital assistant is also integrated into Microsoft's new web browser for Windows 10, called Microsoft Edge.

The decision to bring Cortana to other platforms is part of Microsoft's broader shift toward integrating more closely with other mobile platforms. The most significant part of that effort to date is Microsoft's decision to let developers who have written apps for Android and iOS to port those apps to Windows 10. That effort is just getting going. Microsoft is going to release Windows 10 later this summer but will bring the new operating system to phones only after it rolls it out to PCs.

As part of its cross-platform strategy, Microsoft is also announcing what it calls a "Phone Companion" app, which will be built in to Windows 10. The app will help users connect a Windows PC to whatever phone they have, according to Microsoft.

When users launch the Phone Companion app on a Windows 10 PC, they will pick which type of phone they own, whether it is Windows phone, Android phone or iPhone. With a Windows phone, there's nothing extra to do, but Android users or iPhone users will need to perform some setup steps and download some Microsoft apps.

For example, with Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage app, users can sync between their phone and PC. Users will also be able to use a new version of Microsoft's Music app to store and access, for free, the music from OneDrive. Users can also sync notes via One Note and sync Microsoft Office documents between PCs and phones. Some of those apps will clash with cloud-based apps from Google and Apple, but Microsoft is obviously trying to get more hooks into mobile devices and make its services more pervasive, even if consumers do not have Windows phones.

For more:
- see this Microsoft blog post
- see this The Verge article
- see this PhoneScoop article

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