Halo fans, rejoice -- Windows Phone's Siri competitor named Cortana

Posted by Rhuaridh Marr
September 12, 2013 2:07 PM |

File this under "likely to change," but let's dabble in fantasy for a moment, shall we? Microsoft's upgrade to its Windows Phone 8 OS -- currently dubbed Windows Blue, but likely to be renamed Windows Phone 8.1 -- has been leaked, and signs strongly point towards a slew of new features, including a personal assistant to rival Siri and Google's Voice Search. The best part of this news? Microsoft is currently calling the system Cortana -- an homage to the character from Microsoft's Halo gaming franchise.

In Halo, Cortana is an artificially intelligent program that lives inside Master Chief's armor, giving him tactical information and updates on the battlefield, as well as helping stop the destruction of the universe. Microsoft's incarnation of Cortana on Windows Phone will, sadly, be less able to help in any galaxy-troubling matters.

She will, however, be a much more pervasive assistant. After being first revealed on Windows Phone Central yesterday, ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley has given further information on what we can expect from Cortana. While it will be a voice and text-based search system, much like Siri and Google, it will go much further. Foley claims Cortana will be able to learn and adapt to a user, by utilizing the "Satori" knowledge base used by Microsoft's Bing search engine. Cortana will also be more than an app floating on top of the OS. Instead, the entire OS is being restructured with Cortana as the core of each service -- it will work across Windows Phone, Windows and the Xbox One, and through each individual strand such as applications, app stores, music and movies.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confirmed in a July memo that the company was working to integrate each product across one services core, stating:

"Our UI will be deeply personalized, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world. Our shell will natively support all of our essential services, and will be great at responding seamlessly to what people ask for, and even anticipating what they need before they ask for it."

Using Bing's knowledge base, which is able to connect people, places and things, Cortana will be able to make decisions on what each user needs when they search for something. Be it something on their desktop, a game on their Xbox or a contact on their Windows Phone. When a user hits the search button on their Windows Phone in the future, they won't be taken to Bing but to Cortana, who will let them interact through text or speech, and can utilize system-wide scanning to aid in tasks -- such as reading text messages to populate calendar appointments, or throwing the weather report into a morning alarm if you regularly check it after waking up.

It's still strictly a rumor until Microsoft confirms anything concrete, but if the leaks keep coming and Cortana is the real deal, we could be looking at something extraordinary. Until they can get her working in hologram form, of course.

The image below was tweeted by The Verge's Tom Warren, and shows a very early testing form of Cortana that will no doubt change significantly before launch.

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