Microsoft hit the headlines this week after it announced plans to bring its Cortana voice assistant to iPhone and Android devices.
The latter will be getting the Halo–inspired helper at the end of June, with the iPhone edition due to land later this year.
The app itself is similar in approach to Apple’s Siri and Google Now. You just fire it up, ask it questions and get answers.
You can also check calendar appointments, conduct web searches and get the latest transport information, all without having to type a word.
What’s more, Microsoft says the new app will work seamlessly across Windows 10, meaning you don’t need to own a Microsoft-branded mobile in order for breezy access to all your Cortana information.
A device-agnostic approach is something that’s very easy to get on board with.
That said, is Cortana really something that the wider community can get excited about?
Microsoft admits that it won’t be full featured on iPhone and Android, meaning you won’t be able to open your device by saying ‘Hey Cortana’, or open other apps from within the Cortana app itself.
That’s not necessarily Microsoft’s fault. Voice assistants in general are still something of a novelty.
That’s not to say that they don’t work well. Siri and Google Now have improved greatly since they first launched.
But the fact remains that speaking into your phone without another person being on the other end makes you feel like a prize idiot.
Sure, asking Siri when the next train is or getting pizza delivery numbers from Google Now is a good way to impress your non tech–savvy mates.
But it’s hardly something you want to be caught doing on a busy train or while walking down the street.
Cortana’s iOS and Android arrival feels like a necessary evil. Like FIFA organising a World Cup or the next series of The X Factor.
Microsoft needs to have a voice assistant because Apple and Google has one. Even if no one really ever wants to use one outside the comfort of their front room.
These tools will doubtless get better and find slicker real world uses as they do.
But right now they feel like trivial and needless additions for those trying to make their mobile operating system look better than their rivals’.
So, while we can applaud Microsoft for understanding that users want better integration across platforms, perhaps we should be more interested in its new Phone Companion rather than Cortana.
That tool at least offers breezy Microsoft app installation on Android and iOS, something which will be much more useful to far more people than being able to ask a phone for the latest cricket scores.