As you probably know by now, Cortana has made her first PC appearance with the release of Windows 10 Build 9926. Microsoft delivered Cortana as a digital assistant for devices with Windows Phone 8.1 on April 2, 2014. But, that's not exactly where the digital assistant got its start. Xbox and gaming fans know that Cortana originated as a fictional AI character in the Halo video game series.
As a digital assistant for devices, the name Cortana was only a project codename. But, based on customer feedback, is one of the only products to retain the codename after release, just because of how cool it is.
Cortana gets much of her intelligence through integration with Bing, Microsoft's Search engine, but is also tied to the Microsoft Cloud infrastructure, allowing capabilities to be updated continually.
In Windows Phone, you can enact Cortana's powers a couple ways. Just using the smartphone's Search function, Cortana is at the ready to serve answers to your questions. Using the Cortana app, you can get customized news, weather, alerts, and many other things, but tap the microphone button and you can speak directly to Cortana and she'll respond. She'll even read your incoming text messages if you tell her to do so. The smartphone I use is the HTC M8 Windows Phone with the Dot View case (detailed reasons HERE). The Dot View case gives me an even different option for initiating a conversation with Cortana. I simply swipe down the front of the case and Cortana waits for my voice direction. It's a hugely valuable function, particularly when driving.
Cortana has truly become a staple in my life. It's amazing how quickly you can integrate something when it's good and useful. Cortana is just that. She's now indispensable.
In Windows 10 Build 9926, and just like with Windows Phone, Cortana powers the new Search, and functions much the same way. Just like Windows Phone you can use your voice to make requests and Cortana keeps track of all the same things offered with Windows Phone 8.1. But, Windows 10 Build 9926 brings something extra to the table – something I've been clamoring for since my very first week using Cortana. Something I hope comes as part of a future update for Windows Phone.
Cortana can now also be configured on a Windows 10 PC or tablet to wait and listen for you to require her service. After a quick setting change, all you have to do is say "Hey, Cortana" with your request and she's already preparing a response. I have so wanted this feature to come to Windows Phone for so long.
One way to set this up (and also gives you a tour of the Windows 10 landscape) is to:
- Swipe from the right, or tap the Notifications icon in the Windows 10 System Tray to reveal the new Action Center (Notifications) – read about the Action Center here
- Tap the All Settings option.
- On the Settings screen, open System – Display, notifications, search, power
- Highlight Cortana & Search and open the Customize Cortana & search settings
- Locate and flip the On switch for the Let Cortana respond when you say "Hey Cortana"
But, probably the simplest way is to just open Cortana on the taskbar, access the dropdown menu by opening the Settings menu (the 3 lines that look like a hamburger), and go straight to Cortana Settings.
Now, when you say "Hey, Cortana," she'll be ready and waiting for you, too. There's a small caveat with this that should be noted, though, and it's something that will take a bit of practice to master. When you say "Hey, Cortana" you must be prepared to utter your full request straight after. If you pause after "Hey, Cortana," even briefly, she'll move on, ask "Yes? How can I help?" and stop listening until you voice-prompt her again. I'm sure this will be fixed in future Builds, but it's good to know for now.
One additional feature I'd like to see added, is the ability to customize Cortana's secret phrase. Imagine an office full of cubicles, full of coworkers, all running Windows 10 with Cortana enabled. A single person using "Hey, Cortana" would set off a pretty comical scene that stretched across the entire office. Plus, you don't want your cubicle buddies to be able to initiate Cortana on your PC. No telling what they'd ask her while you were away. And, I can just picture the IT folks handing out browser history reports and asking "now, why again, are you searching for hot Russian babes with a Pop-tart fetish?"
So, yeah. This needs to be customizable per person.
One other caveat, particularly for Surface (and other tablet) users. If you allow the tablet to go into Standby, Cortana stops listening. I'm sure there would be a battery detriment for giving Cortana listening capability when in Standby and or running over the Windows lock screen, but if plugged into power (like inserted into a docking station), it shouldn't matter. I'd love it if Cortana could be used to "wake" my Surface Pro 3.
Still it’s a fine feature and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I expect the same capability to show up next month when the first Windows 10 bits for Windows Phone deliver.