Google has announced Android M, the next iteration of its immensely popular mobile OS. Competition is always good for the consumer, so let’s hope Microsoft is taking notes to improve their own offering.
On Tap is Awesome
One of Android M's improvements is an enhancement and extension of Google’s digital assistant, called Google Now on Tap. With it, cards will not only have the ability to appear proactively; the user can now summon them in ways that are natural and useful.
For example, suppose you and a friend are texting, figuring out a time to go see a movie. Just long press the home button and a card containing ratings, trailers, and links to movie apps will appear. Another scenario: you’re watching an interview on YouTube, and you want to find out more about the person. Rather than go through the typical process – type the name in a browser, scroll through the search results – On Tap makes it easy. A single push gets you information about his or her life, including links to social media profiles.
The great part about this is that app developers don’t have to do anything to make it work. It exists as a system-level service that parses whatever happens to be on the screen at the time. Nor does the user have to select a specific word for it to take action on; On Tap figures out the context on its own. This is really impressive stuff, and its not hard to imagine how it could be further extended in the future.
Cortana, Not Just for Windows Phone
As for Microsoft’s digital assistant? Cortana made quite a splash when it was announced at Build 2014, being plenty capable and wrapped in a slick and lovable personality. However, impressive though it was, Cortana arrived years late to the party, and on a platform with 3% market share at that. This meant that not a whole lot of people had access to it, even if they were intrigued.
It makes sense that Microsoft plans to let Cortana ride on the coattails of Android, iOS, and Windows 10. The first two make up about 97% of the mobile space, and Windows 10 will (hopefully) take over the vast majority of the desktop OS market. These dominant platforms will enable Microsoft's assistant to be available to almost everyone with some type of computer or smartphone. Think about that. Suddenly, Cortana jumps from being an also-ran to the most pervasive digital assistant on the planet.
A Fuzzy Future
Still, while Cortana may soon hold the crown for the most accessible, Google Now is arguably about to become the most powerful. It can already remember where you parked your car, alert you of nearby photo spots, and track packages, to name a few -- none of which Cortana can do currently.
For as much flak as Google can get, On Tap is exactly the kind of innovation that they’re great at. It's also part of what makes them popular with consumers, and I can't help but feel that this puts Microsoft in a tight spot. Although Cortana may be available everywhere, it's not guaranteed that people will use it instead of their phone's built-in software. In fact, this is going to be especially true once On Tap arrives, which will have functionality that an app-ified Cortana simply can’t match. Then again, perhaps consumers will see a great benefit to the fact that Cortana is everywhere -- their phones, the computers, their tablets -- able to help them with their daily tasks.
Microsoft has a long game ahead of it, but Google (and Apple, for that matter) isn’t resting on its laurels. Do you think the new strategy for Cortana will help its adoption?