Microsoft’s digital assistant got little stage time at this year’s Build conference: we only heard about it when the Cortana-Alexa integration was mentioned again (there’s still no release date), and when Microsoft showed a Cortana-powered prototype device that can identify people in a meeting and act on what is said by those in the room.
Unfortunately for Microsoft though, Cortana still suffers from a perception problem, just like Apple’s Siri. Both assistants were quite innovative when they launched, but both companies let them languish while Amazon and Google iterated faster and pretty much created the market for connected speakers.
As of today, it seems quite difficult for the Redmond giant to once again play catch up. Javier Soltero, Corporate Vice President of Cortana at Microsoft seems to have acknowledged this state of fact, saying in an interview with ZDNet that Microsoft now sees Cortana more as an “assistance” aide than an “assistant.”
"Cortana's not going away," Soltero assured. "There's nothing further from the truth. Our target is still to build Cortana as an assistant, too. Our intent is to remain coherent. But the result people want is the assistance. We think the one thing can carry the other," he said.
Soltero, who joined Microsoft when the company bought its Acompli email app (which was later rebranded to Outlook on iOS and Android), also added that Microsoft’s experience with business customers over the years can help make Cortana a valuable tool for enterprise users. While Alexa recently launched Alexa for Business, Soltero recently said that he wanted trust as a differentiator for Cortana.
Overall, Microsoft’s plan for Cortana is to make sure that the assistant remains ubiquitous, but the company will now focus about “assistance, not just convenience.” This also means that we may see Cortana being integrated into more Microsoft apps to help consumers and enterprise users get things done. And since Soltero used to oversee the development of Outlook for iOS and Android, it’s probably not a coincidence if both apps may soon integrate Cortana voice commands.