When news came out that Microsoft was going to be developing Cortana for Android, I was dubious. As in, “So what?” Realistically, I just didn’t see the point. Android has a perfectly good voice assistant in Google Now – to say nothing of how awesome Now on Tap will be – so why should we care about Cortana on Android? It’ll be just another app.
But then news came out more recently that Cortana will be able to replace Google Now as the default search for Android. Whoa. Ok. Now we’re talking.
Just got real
Before, Cortana was an app on Android. Now, Cortana can be just about as central on Android as Google Now is. With Cortana taking over as the default search, users will find it very easy to access Cortana and her witty personality. Right now, “easy” is what Cortana needs. Cortana needs to be able to slide right into Android as the default search and pick up right where Google Now leaves off.
Full disclosure – I haven’t been accepted into the Microsoft Beta program as of yet, so there is no real-world experience here. I tried downloading and running a beta on my Moto X 2014, but it was basically unusable, so I will have to wait for the legit invitation. But just the idea of what’s possible is intriguing enough to write this. The idea of Cortana moving in on Google Now’s turf with capabilities that are very good (even if Google did have a head start) is intriguing in and of itself.
Not quite there
Google Now will have a leg up on Cortana in a few key areas. Cortana will not have “Hey Cortana” activation capability, like Google Now enjoys. The hardware just isn’t there. That will be missed, I think. But not so much that it’ll be a deal breaker. Plus if Microsoft continues to develop the app, perhaps a workaround or another solution can be found.
Cortana also will not have access to core services in Android, such as WiFi controls and the like. This can be a downer, but in my world it’s also not a deal breaker. Controls like that are pretty easy to access in the notification shade, so that’s shouldn’t be a show stopper for anyone.
Data for all!
Finally, while Microsoft likes to brag that all of it’s data – Cortana’s notebook and the like – are all stored on device (as in not in the monetized cloud), that isn’t necessarily going to be an attractive feature for someone using a phone powered by Google. There’s a certain set of rights that you sign away when you use a Google product, and I think most folks are aware of that, or they don’t care, or both.
But being on Android and allowing it to become the default voice assistant is powerful for Microsoft in a variety of ways. People can get acquainted with Microsoft services while still running on their favorite platform. Before, using Cortana meant using Windows Phone. That was a deal not many were (evidently) willing to make. Cortana was arguably one of the more attractive features of Windows Phone, so being able to use it on an already robust platform is a win-win.
Introducing more people to Microsoft’s services is a great thing, and it’s a good way to get people familiar with all that Microsoft has to offer. In many cases, Microsoft’s services are as powerful, or even more powerful than Google’s. If those services can be sampled through an attractive digital assistant, that can only serve to help Microsoft, and in turn help Windows 10 Mobile.
But the key hurdle here was to make Cortana not “just another app” and really find a way to integrate it into the Android experience. Microsoft has found a way to do that. Yes it requires a bit of user intervention – downloading the app, setting it up, setting it as a default search – but once those steps are done, a much wider array of users can start to sample Microsoft’s better side, and that is a very good thing. Plus, it’s safe to assume that if someone is interested enough to download it, they’re going for the full Monty.
Oh, and by the way
Google may very well be worried about this move. It may not be. Google Now is an excellent service, and it is a few years ahead of Cortana in terms of feature set. So this isn’t necessarily a slam-dunk for Microsoft. But having Cortana on PC’s around the world is a great start and bringing that same experience to phones and tablets around the world is even more provocative when you consider the potential for the unified experience. That’s why this is a huge move. Not necessarily only for the phone space, but for the whole shebang. The whole ball of wax. Microsoft can bring a unified experience not just to Windows 10, but to everything.