Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is working on a competitor to Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Siri virtual assistant codenamed “Cortana,” according to a report from CNET. Cortana was originally glimpsed as "zCortana," a software folder seen in screenshots of a beta version of the “Blue” update to Windows Phone 8.

Cortana will not only allow users to interact with their devices using voice commands -- it will utilize cloud technology to connect Microsoft systems across all platforms, including Windows Phone 8, the coming Xbox One and Windows 8 computers, CNET reports. Cortana is a codename taken from an artificial intelligence from the popular “Halo” game series for PC and Xbox, capable of learning and adapting to environments, and assisting the main character, Master Chief.

Voice commands are already a part of Windows Phone, but Cortana will also include an app for Windows Phone that will pull together notifications, weather data and calendar events similar to Google Now. Cortana probably is the product that the Bing team was referring to in an interview with CNET when they said they were in no rush to copy Apple’s Siri and Google Now.

“We could come out with something now like them, but it wouldn't be state of the art. It's too constrained to be an agent now," Stefan Weitz, senior director of Bing told CNET in July. "We are not shipping until we have something more revolutionary than evolutionary."

CEO Steve Ballmer said in a company memo in July that Microsoft would focus its work on a “family of devices powered by a service-enabled shell.” Cortana probably is the “shell” that Ballmer was referring to, and therefore Cortana is likely to stretch across the entire Microsoft family of devices, including Windows Phone 8.1 devices, the Xbox One and Windows computers.

While Siri pulls information from Wolfram Alpha and Yelp to answer queries, Google Now is capable of using email and calendar data to anticipate queries and present data it suspects the user will find important. Cortana will likely go beyond voice commands like Google Now, according to The Verge’s Tom Warren.


Microsoft is expected to release its Windows Phone Blue update in early 2014, and Windows 8.1 will roll out to computers on Oct. 18, although it is uncertain when Cortana will begin to be seen on the Microsoft family of devices. The Xbox One is slated for release on Nov. 22.

The key aspect of Microsoft’s Bing digital assistant work – and likely the secret Cortana project – is a software known as Satori, a “self-learning system” that catalogs a “mind-blowing” amount of data – enough to fill over 28,000 DVDs daily, Weitz told CNET.

Satori is based in the cloud and is therefore a likely candidate to power the Cortana digital assistant, which will reportedly connect and organize personal data from Windows Phone 8 devices to Windows 8 computers and the Xbox One. Satori is a computation engine powered by more than 50,000 server nodes in Microsoft’s cloud, focused more on a “conversation” than a real-time query. While Satori is capable of responding to questions in real time, it also can anticipate where the conversation is headed, preparing later responses and accumulating pertinent data.

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