Microsoft, Cortana, Halo
Cortana, Microsoft's personal assistant and a lead character from the Halo video games. (Image: Microsoft).

Published: February 7th, 2014

Microsoft Corp. is set to unveil a voice-activated assistant to compete with Apple’s Siri when it launches Windows Phone 8.1 later this year, Bloomberg is reporting.

Developers attending Microsoft’s Build conference in April are likely to be the first ones to get their hands on the new version of Windows Phone OS. One of the major features is codenamed Cortana, after the artificial intelligence that guides Master Chief through his missions in the Halo videogame series. Perhaps Microsoft was responding to the suggestion of this Halo fan that posted in its Windows Phone forum.

Cortana’s geo-location awareness will be powered by Foursquare after Microsoft has made a $15 million investment in the social network that encourages users to check-in to locations and leave comments about them. Bloomberg reports that Microsoft will licence Foursquare’s data and use it to push out tips or offers to users based on their current location. For example, if a user was passing by a coffee shop in the morning, perhaps Cortana could push it an offer for a free donut as the mobile user passes by.

Apple has rolled out its voice-activated assistant Siri to its iOS platform across iPhones and iPads. The feminine voice assistant delivers answers to user requests for the weather, what’s on their calendar, or what the score in the game was last night among a growing list of other functions. It also has a list of Easter eggs that have helped Siri become a pop cultural phenomenon.

Google’s Android platform doesn’t have a voice-activated assistant, but its Google Now feature tries to anticipate what its user will want before they search for it, delivering sports scores from favourite teams, showing the traffic for a morning commute, and telling you when to leave for you meetings. Samsung has created its own Galaxy voice assistant to include on its line of Android smartphones.

Microsoft is being tight lipped about plans for Cortana so far. But Canadian users can expect access to the feature, which will also be powered by Bing.

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