Windows Phone might be a failure, according to Cyanogen Chief Kirt McMaster, but that's okay: He plans to take Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant and make it his own.
In an interview with the International Business Times, McMaster said that he planned to take Cortana—available as an app on the Android platform—and integrate it with the next version of the Cyanogen operating system.
McMaster sees Cortana as an app in search of a good home—a home that Cyanogen could provide. “Natural language coupled with intelligence is very important, but as an application it doesn’t rally[sic] work, because you need to be embedded into the framework of the OS because that is where you get all the signal from the services that makes that intelligence smarter,” McMaster told the paper. Taking those signals—from email, a calendar, location, and more—is the backbone of most modern operating systems, and the way that an OS provider can turn user info into a product it can pitch to advertisers.
Why this matters: Cyanogen’s pitch to bake in Cortana is interesting from two perspectives. Cortana would offer a clear differentiator for the Android spinoff. If Microsoft did license Cortana to Cyanogen, that would signal a possible backup plan for the software giant: If it can’t manage to sell its OS to hardware makers and consumers, pushing services like Cortana (and Outlook, Bing, and others) to a broad consumer base may be just as good.
Getting away from Google Now
Of course, Android already has a digital assistant: Google Now. That apparently doesn’t mean much to McMaster, however, who sees Google as a competitor, not a partner: in March, he told Forbes that he is “putting a bullet through Google’s head.”
Google Now is baked into Android, however, while Cortana is not. McMaster plans to take what Microsoft has so far left out of Cortana as an app—the ability to control services in the OS, including settings and other applications—and build it in.
Currently, Cortana on Android and iOS serves as sort of a supercharged search engine, parsing inquiries via natural language, setting reminders and issuing alerts—and not much else. But McMaster also praised Cortana as being better than Apple’s Siri, and, in some cases, better than Google Now itself.
It’s unclear how McMaster and Cyanogen will be able to integrate Cortana, however, without Microsoft’s help. The way McMaster spun it, he lumped Windows Phones, Ubuntu and Firefox together as mobile operating systems that are “dead in the water,” but positioned Cyanogen’s relatively meager market share as an asset.
“Having a company that has no legacy business, that has no dependencies, means that we can open up opportunities for third parties that the incumbent OS creators don’t,” he said.
Whether Microsoft would just hand over the keys to the kingdom, as it were, remains to be seen.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.