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Microsoft Announces Cortana, Siri-Like Personal Assistant

Microsoft announced a rival to Apple's popular digital "assistant" Siri on Wednesday -- and she's called Cortana.
Image: Cortana
Real-world assistants use a notebook to track their clients' interests, so #Cortana will do the same.Twitter

Microsoft announced a rival to Apple's popular digital "assistant" Siri on Wednesday -- and she's called Cortana.

The robot-voiced digital personal assistant can manage the smartphone user's calendar, keep notes on his or her favorite places to go, and shut out calls from people who shouldn't be calling during "quiet hours." Joe Belfiore, who manages Microsoft's Windows Phone division, introduced Cortana to developers at the company's Build conference in San Francisco.

From Microsoft's point of view, the popular Siri isn't any competition for Cortana.

"From our point of view, Cortana is the first truly personal assistant," Belfiore said. He later called it "the only personal digital assistant on a cellphone."

The announcement came after Microsoft unveiled its new Windows Phone 8.1. The update will be available on new phones starting in late April and available to other customers over the next few months, Belfiore said.

"Beyond what you'd expect beyond a mere search engine, Cortana also gets to know you. She's always looking out for you," Belfiore said. "She's also good at helping you learn things, she can do searches, tell you what music is playing."

The product was named Cortana after a character from the video game Halo, as had been rumored among tech fans.

Belfiore demonstrated the product onstage at Build, asking it to make phone calls, how many calories are in a banana, how the Seattle Mariners were doing and which restaurant to go to in Palo Alto.

Microsoft spent much of its WIndows Phone 8.1 time focusing on Cortana. Other features include Wi-Fi Sense, which can connect to free WiFi when it's available, and an improved "Wordflow keyboard."

While Cortana seems nice enough, Belfiore experienced a couple of glitches with her while on stage Wednesday. Nevertheless, Cortana had a pretty quick response when he asked for the dirt on the next Halo game, saying, "I'm quite sure you don't have security clearance."

--- Julianne Pepitone and Matthew DeLuca.