Microsoft’s next Cortana app has flaws

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Microsoft has reworked its voice assistant, Cortana, to become a business productivity aid. The first tests show some critical gaps for our colleagues at PC World.

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The Redmond firm is reorienting its voice assistant Cortana towards productivity assistance. Available in the next 20H1 version of Windows 10, our colleagues at PCWorld have tested it and found significant gaps and at least disturbing for professional use. The publisher did not dispute the early returns from PCWorld. For example, the app is not even capable of performing basic math operations (2 + 2). The company said additional features, such as the calculator in particular, would be added later.

For now, Microsoft’s Cortana remains anchored to the Windows taskbar. By clicking on the icon, you can (orally) ask him questions, for example asking him what is the height of the Eiffel Tower or the weather forecast. But, in version 20H1 of Windows 10, the Cortana experience as a separate app will be very different. And this is where the problems start.

A resolutely productivity-oriented app

Microsoft has specified that the Cortana app was in “beta” version, and that it was being optimized, the objective being, more than anything else, to integrate it as well as possible with professional tasks. In a blog post published on Friday, Microsoft confirmed that the app suffered from a significant limitation. The Cortana app lets you log in to either your work account or your personal account, and limit requests to information that the app is aware of on either account. For example, if you haven’t put a doctor’s appointment in your work calendar, Cortana might skip it.

“The Cortana assistant is now designed for the professional,” explained Microsoft. “The assistant is focused on productivity, it makes it easier and faster to find information in Microsoft 365”. This means that Cortana is primarily used to access information about coworkers and workflow. The future version brings a plus compared to the current version: it allows you to talk to Cortana or type in Cortana, and the exchange will be treated as a chat app, with the ability to browse the list of results.

Cortana cuts the cord with Alexa

This only applies to the United States. “Cortana will help English speaking users (US) better manage their schedules and tasks. It’ll put what’s most important, including the most relevant meeting content, at the top of their calendars, ”Microsoft said. “These users will be able to talk or type queries to find people or files, or quickly create or query emails. They can also easily consult their diary, set a reminder or add items to Microsoft To Do lists ”.

Users outside of the US will have to settle for “chats with Bing” and the “ability to chat with Cortana”, although it’s hard to spell out what that really means. However, Cortana will no longer be able to play music, manage a connected home, and manage third-party skills. This essentially means that Cortana will no longer be able to control Spotify, nor power third-party IoT devices like the Harman / Kardon Invoke. It is also the end of the partnership with Amazon’s Alexa. Microsoft will also be turning off Cortana services in Microsoft Launcher on Android by the end of April.

Cortana will turn off functions for Alexa (Photo Credit: IDG)

Cortana unable to calculate

During their first tests of the Cortana app, our colleagues also discovered that the application only allowed to use one account at a time and that the Alexa functionality had been removed. They will soon post a video showing some upcoming Windows 10 features and the changes impacting Cortana.

But they noticed another problem: the Cortana app is not able to do simple calculation operations, a common request for some. “When we test new laptops, we average the results. We never automated the averaging process, ”the testers explained. And for good reason, they had gotten into the habit of asking Cortana to add up the results, then to divide them to give them an average. But this function has simply disappeared from the new app, “an inexplicable shortcoming”.

Cortana got caught up in very basic matters. (Credit: Mark Hachman / IDG)

Some positive points

There are still some positive points. The ability to scroll through the list of results is a plus, as is the ability to include images alongside the results. But some of the shortcomings noted above are simply incomprehensible. Use Cortana to open the “Settings” menu? Or an app? Granted, it saves a click, but these features are not worth promoting. In the upcoming video, and during their test of the application, our colleagues thought that the capabilities of the Cortana app being dependent on server-side cloud services, these gaps could be filled over time. But it looks like it won’t. It is to be expected, and rightly so, that Microsoft will be heavily criticized for Cortana’s upcoming shortcomings.

It’s good to see that the Cortana app in Windows 10 20H1 includes images alongside the results, but the app still has a lot to learn. Mark Hachman / IDG

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