Redesigned iOS Cortana app looks better but adoption challenges remain

November 15, 2018

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Microsoft is in something of a tough spot with Cortana. The assistant is integrated into Windows 10, which has more than 700 million users globally. However the last official Microsoft figures showed Cortana with around 150 million users.

Cortana consumer adoption lags rivals. That compares with several times as many users for Google Assistant and Siri, while Alexa has fewer overall users but dominates the smart speaker market.

There’s also a Cortana SDK that enables third party device makers to include Cortana in their hardware. Google and Amazon are both pursuing a similar strategy and, so far, there has been only limited adoption of Cortana by third party device makers.

New UI is cleaner. Against this backdrop Microsoft has introduced a redesigned app for iOS devices. As others have noted, it’s a primarily white background and overall a more spartan user interface. There’s also a new emphasis on music and podcasts.

Here’s what Microsoft says is new in Cortana 3.0 compared with the previous version:

  • A new conversational experience for answers
  • A new place to manage and set up your Cortana devices
  • Listen to music and podcasts on the go
  • Stay on top of your tasks managing meetings, emails, reminders and To Do on the go
  • Join your next Skype or Teams meeting by simply asking Cortana

There are effectively three tabs now: Upcoming, Discover and Devices. There’s also a hamburger menu in the upper right that offers lists, reminders and suggested tasks.

Three tabs and an emphasis on music. The home screen features Upcoming, which shows weather, calendar entries and other to-dos. Discover is essentially a tutorial about what can be done with the assistant: play music, join meeting, get news, ask questions, set reminders. The third tab enables you to connect other devices, including Alexa devices, to Cortana. Currently there are four:

  • Alexa
  • GLSA smart thermostat
  • Surface headphones
  • Harman Kardon Invoke

This list reflects the undernourished state of the Cortana device ecosystem.

Lack of compelling features. There don’t appear to be any different or compelling enough features to get the bulk of iPhone and iPad users to start using Cortana regularly. And Cortana’s non-native status on iOS puts it at a significant disadvantage compared with Siri or even the Google Assistant.

Why you should care. Microsoft is investing very heavily in AI technology and research, and Cortana is one consumer-facing manifestation of that. However, it would take something fairly radical for Cortana to break through on iOS and Android. Right now it appears that Microsoft will likely see its greatest success as a supplier of AI technology, including virtual assistants, to enterprises.

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