Mister Mobility gets acquainted with Cortana

Cortana

Cortana is the virtual assistant on Windows Phone 8.x devices that helps with reminders, suggestions, tasks Setup reminders, appointment, music and the like via voice interaction. Though I updated Big Red to version 8.1 recently, I haven’t had access to Cortana because both my language and regional settings were pegged to the UK. The feature is available to the US only for now.

Yesterday, I decided to give Cortana a try just for the kicks, so I dived into the Settings on Big Red and changed Speech, Language and Regional settings to reflect the United Kingdom. Two restarts later, and Cortana shows up on the phone. I opted for the female voice. I mean, how can a Cortana be male? Duh.

Launching the app for the first time, it asked me for permission to collect and use all sorts of information. Oh; it also required me to put on Location services for the app to work. Next up, it asked me to type in my name. I typed in Mister Mobility, and Cortana easily pronounced that. I should have used Oluwayomi Adegboye instead, but I wouldn’t risk having it fry my phone trying to pronounce that.

After that, it asked me a series of questions to have a feel of my tastes, preferences and interests. One of the things it asked me about was food. Me and food? Cortana has missed road. I think I selected an option that indicates I am not interested or so. Anyway, our date progressed to the more exciting parts. Here are samples of our discussions. The entire family had hilarious moments with Cortana getting our local names and terms wrong.

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Me: Play Davido.
Cortana: Now playing Ego *cues in Beyonce’s “Ego”*
My kids: ROTFL

Me: Who is Lagbaja?
Cortana: Who is like my job?
Me: Sigh

Me: What is Skelewu?
Cortana: What is skill head?
Me: Olodo!

After a few tries at getting Cortana to play some of my favourite local music, I gave up and asked for some of my favourite Western labels.

Me: Play “All Of Me” by John Legend.
Cortana: Now playing “All Of Me” *Music starts*
Me: Swoons.

Me: Play “Flying Without Wings” by Westlife.
Cortana: Now playing “Flying Without Wings” *Music starts*

Cortana successfully set up lunch reminders and others without issues.

Me: Setup a reminder for lunch with the boys
Cortana: When is your event?
Me: Tomorrow
Cortana: Alright. When is the start time?
Me: 2pm
Cortana: Sure. I’ll add Lunch with the boys for tomorrow at 2pm. Sound good?
Me: Yes, baby!
Cortana: Great *reminder setup and saved*

Cortana - Add this to your calendar

Cortana successfully composed, added extra text and sent off text messages to my contacts. What is even more interesting is that Cortana keeps learning about you to make it easier for you to get things done. In one case that I asked Cortana to send a text message to my wife, it replied that it remembers that So-and-so is my wife, and promptly inserted her mobile number in the SMS “To” field. Impressive.

I do wish that there was a way to launch and interact with Cortana without touching the phone. For now, it requires one to use the on-device and on-screen microphone icons.

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Success rate for regular English terms is near 100%, but once you throw in a local word, success rate drops. Understandably so. Cortana is currently officially available only to the US market. Cortana will be rolled out internationally later, so everyone can have access to it. Shall we see Cortana with support for Yoruba or Igbo some day?

Mister Mobility

I started blogging about mobile in 2004 as a fun way to share my passion for gadgets and mobile services. My other interests include digital media, speaking and teaching, photography, travelling, and dancing.

5 thoughts on “Mister Mobility gets acquainted with Cortana

  • April 23, 2014 at 6:35 am
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    Incredible! Windows have really nailed this one. Does it require internet connection to work?

  • April 23, 2014 at 10:24 am
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    Sounds impressive, if only for the entertainment possibilities. Like the Tom Cat range of apps on Android.

    The first time, in the late Nineties that somebody demonstrated voice calling to me for the first call, I was wowed.

    I have since developed a dismissive stance to all these gimmicky things..(like SmartScroll and the likes on this Samsung Galaxies)

    Siri, Cortana and the rest.of them..I see.as.playthings..

    • April 25, 2014 at 10:58 am
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      Though I understand your point, I have to disagree all the same. Personally, I find a digital assistant with ‘accurate’ voice recognition capabilities extremely useful. It makes certain tasks easier in little ways. Most of the time the difference appears so little that you wont notice it until you experience it yourself. I can give you two examples. A small one and a big one:

      1. Making a call and putting it on speakerphone: Two steps – (a) press cortana button; (b) say “call my wife on speaker”. Thats all. You’re done. Making a simple act simpler.

      2. Phone use while driving: For example, while driving this morning the following things occurred – I received a text message from a friend, had the message read out to me, composed a 4 sentence reply, and sent my friend the response. All of this took AT MOST a minute and a half; and all without once touching my phone or taking my eyes off the road. I don’t know bout you but that is a big deal to me considering how long I spend in traffic everyday.

  • April 24, 2014 at 4:27 am
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    I think this is impressive and Cortana is already up there with the leaders, i.e. Siri and Google Now. Competition is really good for everyone, I mean fair and healthful competition, the type that is channelled in the actual field rather than those carried out in law courts to kill competition by court injunctions and some frivolous patent lawsuits or general underhand dealings.

    Now I remember that Microsoft have had this voice thingy since the days of Windows XP and it never took off because there’s only Microsoft for Microsoft to contend with. Sure there were some really good alternatives like IBM ViaVoice and Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking but those probably lacked deep integration with the underlying system and always have some hitches and never really worked around here because their underlying speech engines weren’t so robust.

    Probably Microsoft never truly believed in the feature of voice driven interactions with our devices that they couldn’t offer something more useful but competition is making them believe now and they are showing they can deliver too and probably even surpass competition in this area. Impressive.

  • April 25, 2014 at 11:32 am
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    @Mister Mobility – Yeah, Cortana is quite good. Here’s hoping Microsoft doesn’t drop the ball on this one.

    On using local words, I’ve found that Cortana is suprisingly good at picking contacts from the phone book no matter how ‘local’ the name sounds. At times I even pronounce the names as ‘local’ as I can to make it harder and, in almost two weeks of trying, its/she’s only gotten it wrong once. However, this only applies to picking names in the phonebook when trying to make a call, send a text or other things directly related to your contacts. When composing a message, the success rate (with local names) falls spectacularly.

    Still, its suprisingly good for a BETA thats not designed to work in Africa yet. Especially since I tried the same thing with Google Now on a NOTE 3 and the only local name it could identify in its phonebook (after multiple attempts) was “Ada”.

    Haven’t tried it with Siri yet.

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