Conference leader Danny Sullivan with Microsoft’s Rob Chambers and Marcus Ash during the keynote on Cortana and predictive search at SMX Advanced in Seattle today.

Microsoft is grappling internally with the question of whether to expand its Cortana virtual assistant to Android and iPhone — weighing the needs of multi-platform users against the competitive differentiation that the technology could give to Windows devices.

CortanaLaunchScreen_Web“It’s a bit of a head-scratcher for us right now,” acknowledged Marcus Ash, a group program manager for Windows Phone, when he was asked about Cortana’s possible future on Android and iOS at the SMX Advanced search marketing conference in Seattle today.

For example, a Windows PC user who uses an Android phone could find Cortana on the desktop or tablet to be an incomplete experience if the virtual assistant wasn’t able to take into account activity on the phone, and interact with the user via that device.

However, Ash added, “It’s interesting to think about the future of these assistants and whether they become a reason to buy into the ecosystem. That is the other tension we have. If you play this out five to ten years, and these assistants become the reason you choose Android or iOS or Windows, then what’s our position? Could Cortana be the thing that, as a Windows user, (makes me feel like) I’ve got to get a Windows phone?”

SMX Advanced conference organizer Danny Sullivan pointed out that the Microsoft Bing search app is available across iPhone and Android, which would make it natural to offer Cortana as part of that app on other devices. Cortana is Microsoft’s counterpoint to Siri, which is available only on Apple devices; and to Google Now, elements of which are available as part of Google’s iPhone app, in addition to Android.

One complication is that Microsoft wouldn’t be able to integrate Cortana as seamlessly with the hardware on competing devices as it can on Windows Phone, noted Rob Chambers, a group program manager from Microsoft Research who joined Ash on stage. He cited the example of running the phone in a low-power state to enable an always-on listening experience for quickly activating the virtual assistant.

However, Chambers said he has seen an increase in the Redmond company’s willingness to work with other platforms, beyond Windows, with new CEO Satya Nadella championing a “mobile first, cloud first” strategy.

“There are a lot of investments that Microsoft has already made, and we’re making even more of them in these other ecosystems,” Chambers said. Skype and Office 365 are two prime examples — a sign that independent product groups are embracing the approach.

“But then you have to think, what does it mean for Microsoft as a whole? Microsoft right now is working the best together I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been at the company for 19 years. And so is there a strategy for Microsoft that makes sense, and what role does Cortana play in that particular environment?”

Cortana, currently available as a developer preview, is being rolled out with Windows Phone 8.1 this year. Ash made it clear that team’s focus right now is on getting Cortana used widely on Windows Phones and, with these larger questions becoming more important later.

Previously: Hands-on with Microsoft’s Cortana for Windows Phone


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  • Pedro Weekes

    You people at Microsoft must be ridiculously ignorant!! It isn’t bad enough that Android and IOS users practically laugh at the WP OS and now you introduce a feature that with enough innovation could rightfully outdo Siri and Google Now and you come here to your supporters and spit in their faces with talk of putting Cortana on Android and IOS phones.

    WHY ISN’T SIRI OR GOOGLE NOW ON ANY WP PHONES???? Tell me were those two features around for about a yr + with one and more with the other and WP or WM wasn’t given a sniff and you want to kiss the same hand that just folded all 5 fingers and gave you a little love tap with them.

    I am quickly becoming a WP enthusiast and now with all the talk of more, more ,more to come with all the updates in the future to this new OS and then to read this “pap” it’s you’re asking the ? can people with the IQ to design this technology can actually sit,stand or lay and seriously say ‘let’s put it on other COMPETING SMARTPHONES’ BRILLIANT SIMPLY UNADULTERATED GENIUS!!!!!

    • AnonGuy

      Cortina on desktop is useless without mobile support. It will just make it easier to get a Mac or switch to Linux if I decide to switch to console gaming if it isn’t on other platforms. Cortina is decent but the lack of decent apps on windows phone is something she cannot make up for. They need to bring it to other platforms just like Google put Now on Windows and iOS. It makes sense, and you’re being naive.

  • walkergw

    This is an interesting conundrum. Increase the availabiiity and power of Cortana or Increase intrest in WP? But I think if MS is really smart, they can do both. If they put Cortana on iOS and Android. It could improve the abilities of Cortana as well as show iOS and Android users what MS can do. By having Cortana work more integraly to WP, it could actually create an increase in demand from previous iOS and Android users for WP.
    I say go for it MS!

  • VL

    How about put Cortana in the background on iOS and have her say “tsk tsk” everytime Siri gives an inferior answer, and she could make snarky comments like “Should have gone with Windows…”

  • Seattleite

    I think the decision depends on whether or not Microsoft could generate enough revenue on other platforms with Cortana to offset the loss of exclusivity of the service for WP. They made the call to offer Office 365 and Skype on Android/iOS, but the former is a serious enterprise cash cow and the other is a top hit in the consumer segment. I don’t know how Bing’s revenue model is integrated into Cortana, but I don’t think it would make financial sense.

  • Joe_HTH

    No, I support most of Microsoft’s services and products on competing platforms, but this should stay exclusive to WP8. End of story. It makes no sense to put this on Android and iOS. You don’t damage WP8 by putting those other services on Android and iOS, but you could by doing this.

  • User_01

    They need to play the good/smart guy and let her free on all platforms. The more usage for Cortana the better she gets. Bring Cortana to the world!

  • BreVDD
  • Austin Faux

    I was at the conference and the most important feature that came out of it was when Danny Sullivan asked how SEO-ers can prepare for predictive search. The folks at Microsoft said we should use Schema mark ups to make finding the information quicker for Cortana, and obviously Siri, and Google Now.

    I kind of agree with that. I’ve never been a big schema mark up fan, because let’s be honest it doesn’t do anything for ranking. But the big take away I got from this conference was the easier we make search engines’ “life” the easier we can also make a user’s life. Just don’t go into this expecting rank jumps.

  • edvald sula

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