Cortana consumer capabilities pared back as Microsoft seeks to turn the virtual assistant into a chat interface for business-oriented commands
Microsoft is set to scale back the consumer features of Cortana with its upcoming update to Windows 10, as it seeks to give the voice-activated tool more of a business focus.
The company said the Cortana consumer “skills”, or capabilities, that would be removed included music, connected home features and third-party skills.
At the same time, Microsoft said it was tightening access to Cortana, with users now required to be logged in with a work or school account or a Microsoft account to use the service.
Cortana will no longer be accessible in older versions of Windows that have reached their end-of-service dates, and Cortana will also be switched off in the Microsoft Launcher on Android by the end of April.
Users will still be able to use Cortana to control voice-activated speakers such as the Harman Kardon Invoke, but only using the Cortana app for iOS or Android, with the capability being removed from Cortana on Windows 10, ZDNet reported.
However, users in some areas no longer have access to the Cortana mobile app, which was shut down in countries including the UK as of 31 January, 2020.
The changes are part of Microsoft’s efforts to turn Cortana into a business-focused tool, taking it out of direct competition with general-purpose virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant.
To that end, the upcoming Windows 10 update, designated Windows 10 20H1/2004, will turn Cortana into a chat-based user interface across Microsoft’s products.
Users will be able to tell Cortana to carry out commands using their voice or the keyboard, with commands for finding or organising information at the forefront.
For instance, users can ask, “What’s next on my calendar?”, or create a reminder by saying or typing: “Remind me to send the ‘weekly report’ every Friday at 2pm.”
Cortana will be able to create or query emails, get answers from Microsoft’s Bing search engine, set alarms or timers, open apps, adjust settings, or relate a joke.
Those features only apply to users in the United States, with those in other language areas only able to launch a Bing search or “chat” with Cortana, Microsoft said in a blog post.
Windows 10 20H1/2004 is expected to launch sometime this spring.