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Cortana for Windows Phone 8.1: Learning the lessons of Microsoft Bob

This is a blog post from Microsoft SMB manager Alan Nevison

So Apple has Siri, Google has Google Now and Microsoft has Cortana… The latter was recently unveiled at Microsoft’s annual developer conference Build 2014, and introduced to the world as the first truly personal digital assistant.

Powered by Bing and inspired by a much-loved ‘Halo’ character, Cortana is a new voice search tool for Windows Phone 8.1 that gets to know you by learning your interests over time. She will detect and monitor the things you care about, looks out for you throughout the day and helps filter out the noise so you can focus on what matters to you.

From keeping you up to date with your football team’s score, to letting you know when your favourite TV show is on next and informing you of changes to your flight time – Cortana is designed to notify you on the stuff that matters to you, learning from you and your habits.

You can also set reminders with Cortana. For example, you can say ‘remind me to ask my sister when she’s free for dinner next’ and she’ll not only know the name of the contact that you are referring to, but text you the next time you call your sibling with a reminder. Need help finding a restaurant? Well, ask Cortana and she’ll go ahead and search for the type of restaurant that you like, in the area you like, at the price range you’ll want to pay.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the US tech giant has dabbled with the idea of a digital assistant. Who can forget the much maligned Microsoft Bob?

Confused? Released in the mid-1990s, M-Bob provided a new, non-technical interface for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, featuring a 2D representation of a house, which users could customise and navigate through. A cartoon dog called ‘Rover’ (think Clippy, but with a tail) guided users around the different rooms and provided guidance on how to use a number of programs.

Fast forward 19 years and Microsoft’s latest incarnation is eagerly anticipated to land in the second half of 2014, with Windows Phone 8.1 rolling out to current Windows Phone users over the coming months.