Speaking to VentureBeat, Microsoft’s Andrew Shuman, the successor to Javier Soltero and Corporate Vice President for Cortana, confirmed that Cortana for iOS and Android would be withdrawn from all international markets except USA. Microsoft has previously announced that the app will no longer be supported in only 8 countries, Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Spain, and the U.K.
Microsoft said the US would be an exception for two reasons – one to allow Surface Headphone and Harmon Kardon Invoke users to configure and update the firmware of their headphones, which uses the Cortana app, and secondly to allow Microsoft to continue to experiment with the technology. These Surface Headphones also sold outside the USA, but international users will need to use Cortana for Windows.
Microsoft did say they are releasing a Surface Audio app for Windows, iOS and Android, with the Surface Buds in Spring next year which will, however, take over the functions of Cortana.
As mentioned earlier, Microsoft also wanted to keep a toe in the mobile market.
“We also think that there may be some roles for standalone assistants as an experimentation place for us to try out new ideas still. I think this point has been made a lot, but … the assistant landscape is rich with opportunity, and very not rich with actual results, sometimes. And so the opportunity to continue to try things quickly is important to us as well.”
Microsoft confirmed that they were still investing on the desktop in Cortana/Alexa integration.
“We still have a great aspiration to do a lot more … kind of across the two companies,” he said. “It started really tops down. I don’t know if you remember that, but Satya [Nadella] and Jeff [Bezos] actually cooked this plan up. You can still invoke Cortana from Alexa, and vice versa. I think it will be a great area for us to lean into. We really believe in a multi-assistant world. Just like in the real world where I might have a doctor, and a lawyer, maybe a trainer, you’re going to have multiple assistants that are good at what they’re good at. We’re not going to become an ecommerce company anytime soon, but assistants are great at helping you buy things.”
Microsoft was also working on Cortana text-based natural language input.
“One of the things that we’re investing in Windows is this idea of being a quicker experience for people who are good typists. Those of us who’ve been around computers for a while don’t need to talk to them. But still, the power of natural language is really great. I’ll give you one example that I use now all the time on the builds I’m running, which is just managing my time in my calendar. It’s a lot easier to type in ‘dentist appointment next Friday’ than to alt-tab to Outlook, new file, tab, tab, tab, type in ‘dentist,’ type in ‘Friday,’ and find a free time. So that’s a great example, where just getting data into and out of my digital calendar is really simplified by natural language understanding.”
Lastly, Microsoft was looking at adding Cortana integration to most of their Office apps.
“The analogy that I like to use is both Microsoft Search or Microsoft Account, which are really across all of our applications,” said Shuman. “We think of Cortana in a very similar way, where it really is a horizontal surface area that’s very person-centric. It very much knows a lot about me, and then it experiences itself across all of these apps and suites. So that’s the way that we characterize the investment moving forward. And partially, that’s just the reality of wanting to be in the experiences you’re using every day and not [having] to switch over to another one to get the experience.”
“Obviously, there’s strength in enterprises, but the kind of problems we have are very universal,” he continued. “It’s about helping people get time back. The previous apps that we were showing before were really great when we were in startup mode and trying to sort out what an assistant could be. But they were not directly aligning with those Microsoft 365 users who really don’t want to go to another experience to do their stuff. They want to be able to do it in the apps they’re using every day, like Outlook and like Teams. That’s really been our push now — over a year now of work that we’ve had underway.”
Microsoft’s ambitious for their voice assistant has clearly reduced, but as a modern Clippy it may just have found its niche.
“That’s the kind of thing that’s truly important about an assistant. An assistant has to really know you. And that’s absolutely core to why we’re having this renewed focus on these users that we think we can offer the most value to.”