Is There a Future for Siri and Cortana in the Bigger Picture of Voice Assistants?

Whenever we talk about voice assistants, two usually come to mind, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant have been integrated into almost everything like cars, phones, homes, TVs, and much more. What about Siri and Cortana? Let’s have a look at both and find out where they are and what the future may hold for them.

Apple-Siri-logo Apple Siri

Siri is the mother of modern voice assistants. She became the first virtual assistant with a voice on October 4, 2011, when she was introduced on the iPhone 4S. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant had not yet gone live and begun taking the spotlight away from Siri.

Today, Siri is available on iPhones, iPads, HomePod, Macbooks, iMacs, and all Apple Watches. Siri can also be found in 35 countries including the UK, Australia, the United States, and Canada. ‘She’ is still out there on millions of devices but what CAN she do? Actually, quite a lot! Siri can do many of the same tasks Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant can, and depending on your needs and computing ecosystem, much more. 

Siri can:

  • Send and read texts for you
  • Set alarms
  • Control your home with Home Kit products
  • Translate languages in real-time
  • Send money through Apple Pay
  • Open your camera and take pictures...and much more

Similar to Amazon Alexa, Siri can make proactive suggestions. For example, imagine you are caught up in traffic and will arrive late to work, Siri will suggest you call your boss. She can also suggest you leave at a certain time when you have an event scheduled based on where you are and where the event is being held. The latest updates to Siri even allow her to control Homekit devices at certain scheduled times, for example, turning off the lights at 8:00 pm.

While Siri is good, she still has ‘her’ share of challenges. When compared to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, Siri’s biggest issue is the tie-in to the closed Apple ecosystem. While this is also one of its major advantages, it also limits what Siri can do and how you can access it. 

Siri can only be found on Apple devices and only interact with those devices and devices designed for access by Siri. This may sound similar to how Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa operate but it’s very different when you take a deeper look. The ecosystem of devices and touchpoints for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa continues to expand exponentially when comparatively, because they’ve opened their technology to other brands and device manufacturers. 

By contrast, Siri’s potential for growth and expansion is directly related to the success of the devices and partnerships Apple is able, and willing, to support. Distribution may be the single biggest hurdle Siri must overcome if it’s to have a future in the battle of the voice assistants.

Microsoft Cortana

In April 2014, Cortana was demonstrated for the first time at the Microsoft BUILD Developer Conference in San Francisco. Initially, it was released for Windows Phones and then was made available a year later on Windows 10. Microsoft had a vision that in the future Cortana would be powering fridges, thermostats, and toasters.

In 2001 the video game Halo Combat Evolved was released and introduced Master Chief’s AI partner Cortana. In the game, Cortana was a helpful female voice who removed the boundaries between companion and digital tool. While Halo did not create the idea of an AI assistant, they revolutionized it. Cortana in the game was warm, affectionate, funny, and ensured Master Chief completed his tasks, very much like voice assistants today. While the game clearly impacted Microsoft’s naming of their assistant it also had an impact on many other assistants, for example, both Alexa and Siri have female voices.

While developing the assistant Cortana the team reached out to Halo’s developers for assistance. Halo’s franchise director, Frank O’Conner said that both Cortanas are basically the same thing.

Cortana is a virtual assistant and can perform many of the same tasks other virtual assistants can, for example, searching the internet, scheduling a meeting, and setting reminders. Other tasks include:

  • Locate files on your computer
  • Compose emails and send text messages
  • Obtain song lyrics from audio
  • Open an application and much more

Cortana is also available on the Xbox One and can turn the console on and off or put it to sleep. For a list of what Cortana can do you can say “Hey Cortana, what can I say?”

While Cortana can perform some of the same tasks as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, the assistant is still technologically far behind. When it comes to response time, Cortana is dead last and users have complained about the assistant understanding basic requests even though there are no issues with the microphones. 

Cortana’s progress had been slowed for a long time. In late 2017, Cortana had 230 available voice applications while compariably, around the same time, Amazon Alexa had 25,000 skills. In early 2018 the first and only smart speaker with Cortana, the Harman Kardon Invoke, was made available and lagged far behind in sales, while at the same time millions of individuals were purchasing Google and Amazon’s smart speakers.

"After March 31, 2021, the Cortana mobile app on your phone will no longer be supported," a Microsoft statement confirmed the sunsetting of Cortana. In 2019 Microsoft removed the Cortana for iOS app from a number of regions and this year they shut down the Cortana app for iOS and Android. It was the latest in a series of moves to end support for Cortana across a number of devices including Microsoft’s very own Surface Headphones. 

Conclusion

When it comes to voice assistants there really are only two big players: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Both Siri and Cortana have had their time in the market. One has been retired, and one has been relegated to a more closed system. While Apple continuously adds updates for the original voice assistant, Siri still faces an uphill battle in competing with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa as a functional everyday, every way voice assistant. It still has its place in the market but is somewhat behind the big players. Apple is still working on improving ‘her’ abilities, which is a good sign for future support. A recent patent filed by Apple shows that they are developing ways to make Siri adjust her voice depending on the noise in the surroundings, the distance of your voice, and the way you speak to her. Siri will be able to raise her voice in noisy places and revert to a quieter tone in a quiet place. Also if you whisper a command to Siri she will whisper back to you.

For iPhone users, Siri is good enough to remain their preferred choice. Siri can perform a whole host of helpful tasks and most likely will remain available for Apple users for a long time.

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