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Apple has Siri, a virtual assistant with more spunk than actual utility. Google has Google Now, which is a lot of substance and absolutely no style whatsoever. BlackBerry's Voice Assist is barely functional, but the company is rumored to be working on a dedicated virtual assistant for the next version of their operation system.
And Microsoft? Microsoft will now have Cortana, an artificially intelligent personal assistant with a feature set that sounds like Google's, but a personality more like Apple's.
We've heard the rumors about Cortana before, a virtual assitant based off a fictional A.I. character in the videogame series Halo, but yesterday, Microsoft made it official, along with a number of other exciting upgrades to Windows Phone 8.1.
Cortana: 'The World's 1st Truly Personal Digital Assistant'
Most of Cortana's feature set sounds familiar: parsing your email to find flight and package information (Google), natural conversation (Siri), traffic information (Google), etc.
Some of the more unique features, however, are found in Cortana's Notebook (where she stores personalized information about you, including interests, reminders, etc.). The Notebook also includes personal reminders ("Remind me to tell John that Lisa asked about him") which pop up when you next talk to John either on the phone or via text.
Another great feature is Quiet Hours and Inner Circle. You can turn off notifications during work hours, or sleep hours, but grant exceptions for your "inner circle," such as your dear mother.
There will also be third-party integration, so you can ask Cortana to make a video call with Skype, watch "Law & Order" on Hulu, or post a tweet using Twitter.
Other 'Catch Up' Updates
On Android, trace-typing is a beloved feature where you trace words across the keyboard instead of typing letter by letter. Microsoft added "Word Flow" to its OS, a third-party keyboard which the company claims beat the Guinness Word Record for fastest typing.
Microsoft is also adding a notification center, an update which is years overdue, and intriguing cellular data and storage space management apps.
Has It Caught Up to, or Surpassed, Apple and Google?
Probably not. The new features are welcome, and Cortana is incredibly intriguing, but most of the updates were of the "me too" variety. Plus, the make-or-break feature of a phone OS is, as always, the apps. Windows Phone 8.1 beats BlackBerry in that regard, but compared to Apple and Google's ecosystems, it's a barren wasteland.
Have any plans to try Cortana and Windows Phone 8.1? Tweet us your thoughts or review at @FindLawLP.
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