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Cortana on the PC: Can we talk?

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 5, 2015
Cortana, the Windows Phone voice-activated digital assistant, now works on desktops, laptops and tablets running the preview edition of Windows 10.

Cross-platform Cortana is 'dumbed down'

While some reviewers of Cortana on Windows Phone praised its ability to accurately interpret human requests much of the time, one analyst believes Microsoft hasn't gone far enough by making Cortana cross-platform. Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said Microsoft needs to build a Cortana more explicitly for the greater processing power of a desktop or laptop and not just a cross-platform Cortana that imitates the same relatively limited capabilities of Cortana on the smartphone.

"While Cortana is new and shiny [in Windows 10 for PC' and tablets], I believe that it will be most likely dumbed down to the same functionality as Windows Phone to provide a consistent experience instead of truly tapping the performance in a PC platform," Moorhead wrote in a recent commentary.

In an interview, Moorhead said that desktops, especially, have more powerful processors, memory and storage than smartphones. But Microsoft has only offered the Cortana capabilities of Windows Phone in the cross-platform approach of Windows 10.

Smartphone digital assistants like Cortana, Siri and Google Now "aren't really to the point where you can rely on them, and aren't much above finding telephone numbers," he said. The main reason they aren't more capable is that smartphone software has been designed to provide natural language interpretation and other tasks, outside of the actual device, and in the cloud, as an alternative to the relatively limited processing, storage and memory of the actual smartphone.

"There's too much latency between the mobile network and the cloud and there's latency in the cloud," Moorhead said. "If you pull more of the computing capability and the way Cortana is architected onto the PC, Cortana will be significantly more accurate."

Moorhead said that the natural language interpretation accuracy of today's smartphone digital assistants could well be in the 70% range, compared to the upper 90% range for products like Dragon Naturally Speaking software.

"Dragon is widely relied upon by lawyers and the medical community to transcribe things because it leverages storage, memory and processing on the PC itself," Moorhead said. "If you have that capability on the platform, you should use it, as opposed to going to the cloud. The more processing power you have interpreting what somebody is saying, the better the result is going to be."

As a result of what Microsoft has done with Cortana, Moorhead said, "your experience with Cortana on your smartphone may be exactly the same on the PC. It's a lost opportunity for Microsoft."

Moorhead predicted that if Apple puts Siri on the desktop "their strategy is not going to have the exact same experience as on the iPhone."


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