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Cortana's settings. Credit: The Verge
Cortana’s settings. Credit: The Verge

Virtual assistants are the name of the game in the mobile space these days.

Apple has Siri, Google has Google Now, and Microsoft will soon have Cortana for Windows Phone users. Rumors about the feature appeared last year, but a clearer picture of what’s in store for WP8 users has started to emerge.

According to reports by The Verge, Cortana, named after a character from the “Halo” games series, will draw in data from Bing, Foursquare and other sources to provide context-aware information similar to Google Now. The assistant will offer to store users’ information in a specialized “Notebook” that allows people to keep private information away from her gaze.

Like Google Now, Cortana can mine users’ email for key events, so that a co-worker saying “let’s meet for lunch tomorrow at noon” will automatically become a calendar event, and a user’s phone will automatically track flights in their inbox. In keeping with the privacy conscious Notebook feature, users can also turn off that functionality in Cortana’s settings if they’d rather not have the assistant filtering through their email.

Much like Siri, users will be able to ask Cortana to refer to them by a nickname, which means that they could get their phone to call them “Master Chief,” if that’s the sort of thing they’re into.

Once Cortana launches, Microsoft will have expanded the reach of Bing to a pair of virtual assistants. Siri is currently using Bing as its search provider, since Apple seems uninterested in working with Google any more than they possibly have to.

Microsoft is still working feverishly to try and attract users to Windows Phone. While the launch of Cortana will check off the virtual assistant box in a list of features, the company is still struggling to draw developer attention to its mobile platform.

The Cortana code name is being used inside the company, and it’s not clear whether the feature will keep the same moniker when it launches. Microsoft is expected to unveil the new feature at its Build conference next month, alongside a developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1.

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