Once upon a time, everything Microsoft did was aimed at protecting its Windows operating system. Other than developing Office for the Mac as part of settling a patent dispute (and helping Apple to survive as a company), Microsoft pursued a strategy focused on maintaining Windows' dominant position in the operating system market.
Recently, of course, all of that has changed. Microsoft is transitioning from sustaining its Windows platform to expanding its productivity platform to every meaningful nook and cranny. Today, this means offering Microsoft solutions on iOS, Android, and to a more limited extent, OS X.
Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant that takes on Apple's Siri and Google Now, is the latest in a long line of products and services that have gone cross platform. To date, though, Android has been the only non-Windows Cortana host. That's about to change.
In a posting over at the Microsoft Community, Microsoft has issued a call for Windows Insiders to join in a new beta program that puts Cortana on iOS. Here's the gist:
Your life is not limited to one device, and neither is your digital assistant. Cortana is with you on your Windows 10 PC, tablet, and phone—helping you whenever and wherever you need it. But we also know that there's a choice of mobile devices out there, so we want help from our Windows Insiders to make sure she's a great personal assistant on iOS too.
Cortana's deep integration with Windows means that’s where she can really shine. So, while there are some features you'll use on Windows that we don't (yet) support on iOS phones (like saying "Hey Cortana" to wake her up), we’ve focused on making Cortana on iOS the perfect companion to your Windows experience.
In the spirit of the Windows Insider Program, we’re looking for a limited number of people to get their hands on an early version of the app. It’s important to keep in mind that this is the first public release of the Cortana for iOS beta. And that for now, Cortana for iOS is only available in the U.S. and China. Over the coming months, we’ll continue to deliver frequent updates to the app to expand the features and functionality.
So, yes: Microsoft recognizes that a few people carry iPhones and Android devices, and that a significant percentage of them won't be switching to a Windows 10 Mobile device anytime soon. Pushing Cortana to those platforms is therefore a practical response to real market realities that will still likely offend some Windows fans.
Time will tell if Cortana always runs best on Windows 10 machines--that is, if Cortana always gets deeper hooks into Microsoft's OS than it does into iOS and Android--or if one day this core Windows 10 feature will achieve feature-parity everywhere. For now, Cortana is a bit limited outside of Windows 10, although the Android experience has been surprisingly positive.
If you want to participate in the Cortana iOS beta, then complete this survey now. Participation will be limited, as is typically the case, but if you have an iPhone (the iPad isn't included for the moment), then you can join the lottery.