Earlier today, Microsoft unveiled Cortana for Windows Phone 8.1. Cortana is Microsoft's answer to Apple's Siri and Google's Google Now. Cortana is being touted as the "most personal smartphone assistant" that learns your interests and helps keep track of all that matters.
“We were inspired by the popular character from ‘Halo’ who served as a brilliant AI and a deeply personal digital assistant to Master Chief … so we called her Cortana,” Joe Belfiore, Windows Phone VP stated during Build 2014. Cortana was used as the name for the digital assistant and is there for you, similar to how Cortana was there for Master Chief in the Halo video game series.
To develop Cortana, Microsoft apparently spoke to a number of "real personal assistants" and learned that they kept track of the interests and preferences of their bosses in a notebook. So Microsoft thought, what if Cortana curates all the stuff in Cortana's Notebook, which allows Cortana to be proactive and helpful throughout the day.
And for the voice.. it's Jen Taylor, the same lady who voiced Cortana in the popular Halo franchise. "She is a combination of advanced technology across areas like search, natural language and machine learning that Microsoft has been able to bring to life, along with a distinct personality that is inspired by one of the biggest franchises in Xbox history," says Windows Phone Group Program Manager Marcus Ash.
Cortana is powered by Bing and learns over time as it asks you questions based on your behavior. Cortana will check in with you before she assumes you are interested in something. She can also detect and monitor the items you care about and "looks out" for you throughout the day, even going as far as filtering out the noise so you can focus on what matters the most to you.
Cortana will be available in the US as a Beta soon, while general release is set for the US, UK, and China during the second half of this year. Other countries will follow in 2015. It seems that Cortana will be distributed separately from the Windows Phone 8.1 update. Take a look at the videos below, showcasing Cortana in action.