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cortana halo

The arguments for Windows Phone are well worn and by and large true.

Anyone can see that it’s a sleek, easy–to–use operating system, backed up by more than decent hardware from the likes of Nokia and HTC.

It's also apparent that it now boasts the key apps that were so obviously missing when the platform first launched four years ago.

But the fact remains that Microsoft's OS is still a long way behind Android and iOS, if not in pedigree, then certainly in sales.

IDC figures for the final quarter of 2013 show that while Windows Phone sales were up 46.7% year–on–year, it still only had a global share of 3%.

Apple was on 17.6%, while Google Android sat at the top with 78.1%.

So now the question is, can Microsoft’s newly revealed Windows Phone 8.1, and specifically its new Cortana voice assistant, give it the boost it needs to become a genuinely major player in the smartphone space?

Well, Cortana certainly seems to be every bit as good as Siri and Google’s voice assistant if initial demos are anything to go by.

The digital assistant, named after the Halo character, seems to be more realistic and less ‘computer voice’ than Siri.

The ability to serve up information based on a ‘notebook’ of user interests is clever and the fact it can tap into third-party apps will doubtless help developers who want to make their add–ons more voice friendly.

Like the OS itself, there’s no denying it’s impressive. But is it really what people want?

Siri insult

There are still those who feel, understandably, a tad uncomfortable speaking to their mobile phone in public.

It’s the same with smartwatches and is something either the public needs to get over, or tech companies need to realise just isn’t a goer when you’re not at home or in the car.

Perhaps what would make Windows Phone 8.1 a bigger success would be to give it to manufacturers for free.

This has already been rumoured in India and would certainly help Microsoft combat the rise of budget Android devices.

The days of licensing software in this way are surely numbered, for good or ill.

lumia 930 colours

Wouldn’t Microsoft be better served trying to impress mobile-makers by doing this, than going all out with Cortana?

Perhaps it can do both. And while Cortana will doubtless be a critical smash, convincing consumers to make the switch to the wider OS in general remains a tough ask.

More aggressive pricing and a growing app economy should help. Cortana, though, will simply be the icing on the cake.

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