Microsoft launches 'Cortana' smartphone assistant

San Francisco: Microsoft today took on the challenge posed by Apple's Siri and Google Now by announcing its own voice assistant called Cortana for Windows phones.

Announcing the launch of Cortana, Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president and manager for Windows Phone Programme Management at Microsoft, described the voice assistance as "world's first truly personal digital assistant".

"We were inspired by the popular character from Halo who served as a brilliant AI and a deeply personal digital assistant to Master we called her Cortana," Belfiore said at a Microsoft developer's conference 'Build2014' here.

Powered by Bing, Cortana is the only digital assistant that gets to know the user, he said. Cortana builds on the relationship that one can trust and gets better over time by asking questions based on the user's behaviour, he said.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella demonstrates Cortana
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella demonstrates Cortana. Images/AFP

"She detects and monitors the stuff you care about, looks out for you throughout the day and helps filter out the noise so you can focus on what matters to you," Belfiore told the annual conference being attended by some 5,000 developers from across the globe.

Cortana will soon be launched in the US in the trial version of "beta" and then will be launched in the US, Britain and China in the second half of 2014 with other countries to follow afterwards into 2015.

Making a live demonstration of the interesting product, Belfiore said Cortana is not only designed to interact with a third-party app like Face Book but also over a period of time based on the user's interaction, it acts like a real-time personal assistance.

"All the stuff Cortana curates for you is stored in Cortana's Notebook. This information enables Cortana to be proactive and helpful throughout the day," he said.

Cortana, Belfiore said, can also manage one's phone when one does not want to be disturbed by setting quiet hours where she will silence any notifications, in-coming calls, and texts, he noted.

"Cortana understands the 'inner circle' of people-closest-to-you and she can let them break through at any time during quiet hours," he said.

"And Cortana is the only digital assistant that lets you setup people reminders. You can have Cortana remind you that your buddy owes you USD 20 the next time you talk to him. And all of these interests and preferences are under your control via Cortana's notebook," the top Microsoft official said.

Microsoft to partner with Micromax
Microsoft also announced a partnership with India's homegrown smartphone maker Micromax to build devices.


The move, though surprising, is expected to intensify competition in the smartphone and tablets space, especially in the backdrop of Microsoft's plans last year to acquire the handset business of Finnish phone maker Nokia for USD 7.2 billion.

Innovation across Windows family for rapid progress, says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said the software company will make innovation across the Windows platform to help it catch up with its competitors.

"We are going to innovate with a challenging mindset. We are going to come at this by innovating every dimension of hardware, the software experiences across the Windows family and go after this in such a way that you see us making progress at rapid pace," Nadella said at Microsoft's annual developer's conference in San Francisco. "Microsoft was a tools company before it was an Office company, before it was a Windows company," he added.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Pic/AFP
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Pic/AFP

Yesterday, the software giant announced a series of new features and updates to its Window products, which he said is aimed at making its services more affordable and widely available.

"The idea is to make new applications available across the Windows platform, not only on smart phones and tablets, but also desktops and laptops," Nadella said.

He said Microsoft was expanding the opportunities it offers to developers across the world. Microsoft, through its various programs, is taking steps to help developers and startups, he said adding that the company could offer developers the tools they need to compete in increasingly cross-platform world.

He said the company's goal was to make sure that developers have the best possible opportunity to flourish in that emerging world.

"One of the core principles that we have is to make it possible for every developers to bring their code assets forward and to be able to leverage their code assets they build in a very broad way -- our own family, and across every platform," he said.

"It's crazy to abandon what you've built, and it's crazy not to want what you've built across the broadest set of devices," he added. Nadella said his company is focusing at "great devices, great software's, apps and price points. Those are the four dimensions of getting competitive in the tablet market. The 8.1 update is a big milestone towards this. This has made possible to have tablets across the full price range".

Microsoft to offer Windows for free on small devices
In an attempt to increase Windows' market share on mobile devices, Microsoft has announced to make the operating system available free of cost for smart phones and tablets that have screen size smaller than 9 inches.

Microsoft's move, considered as a big change in its business model, is targeted to give a tough competition to other major operating systems available in the market including iOS of Apple and Google's Android.

Windows Phones and Tablets

The software giant, so far, had been charging anything between USD5 and USD15 from phone and tablet makers to use its Windows system. It had been charging higher process from manufacturers of personal computers.

At its annual developers conference in San Francisco, Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive vice president of Operating Systems, announced that Windows will be free for 'Internet of Things' devices, the small gadgets that will have ability to connect to the web and process information.
"We want to get this platform out there. We want to remove all friction. To drive adoption of your applications, on phones and tablets less than 9-inches, we are making Windows available for zero dollars," he said.

The announcement was welcomed by the IT sector and developers, who described it as a bold move. "In my view, this is one of the boldest moves Microsoft has made in recent memory" Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC, was quoted by IT magazine Computer World as saying.

"This is a very big deal. It's a change at how they look at their cash cow, looking at the bigger picture now and what they need to do to win the mobile story, if you like," Carolina Milanesi, strategic insight director of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, said.

The experts have said Microsoft is placing more and more important on the cloud, and increased interest in the idea of the 'Internet of Things' means that there is a huge market to be tapped into.

Statistically, while Windows-powered phones held only three per cent of the global smartphone market last year, Windows tablets had only about two per cent of the tablet market

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