Microsoft had a real chance to lead the pack when it comes to digital assistants, but Cortana’s slow pace of evolution relegated it as a me-too product that doesn’t have much to stand out. The main problem with Cortana has always been its limited market availability, with Microsoft focusing mostly on consumers in the US and the UK.
We’ve already seen a couple of Cortana-powered products such as the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker, the Glas smart thermostat, and Microsoft’s Surface headphones. But truth be told, these three devices are definitely not much compared to the much bigger ecosystems of connected appliances using Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.
As it turns out, it does seem that Microsoft had a plan to make a bigger consumer push with Cortana-powered devices. Microsoft watcher WalkingCat recently discovered the existence of a [email protected] engineering team within Microsoft. The team is still mentioned on the LinkedIn profile of a Microsoft employee named Craig Miller.
In February 2018, Miller became Engineering Manager for [email protected], and the exec wrote in his job description that his team was “building up a plan to go after the Consumer market like never before.” Moreover, Miller wrote that he was “excited to also lead up our Devices engineering team which is responsible for lots of new IoT devices over the next 12-24 months.”
We have yet to see the result of these ambitious plans, but it seems that Miller’s job has since evolved into something bigger, but still related to digital assistants. Back in January 2019, Miller was promoted to Director of Engineering, Assistant Experiences and Devices at Microsoft, and his new job description on LinkedIn no longer explicitly mentions Cortana: The key word is probably “voice-first experiences,” something that now includes Alexa on both Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One consoles.
As you may now, the upcoming May 2019 Update for Windows 10 will separate Cortana from Windows Search, a change that seems like a retreat. Five years after its launch on Windows Phone, Cortana still has far less skills compared to Alexa, which is probably why Microsoft teamed up with Amazon to make the two digital assistants talk to each other. Cortana still has a lot of value as a gateway to Office 365 data, but its consumer future seems increasingly complicated.