Cortana is the name for the intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator from Microsoft. Cortana builds off Microsoft's previous voice technology called TellMe, which was purchased by Microsoft in 2009. Cortana competes against Android's Google Now and Apple's Siri voice assistants.
The name 'Cortana' comes from the fictional, artificially intelligent (AI) character in the Halo video game series. The first evidence of Cortana's existence was found in June 2013 in the Windows Phone Central forums, appearing as 'zCortana' from a developer device that was accidentally sold to a non-Microsoft employee.
Naming and Voicing
The name Cortana was reserved for the AI in Microsoft's Halo gaming series. While there was a desire to call Microsoft's next-gen personal assistant Cortana as an official name, it was not clear that the company could do so, due to numerous marketing and trademark concerns.
However, on April 4 2014, Microsoft finally unveiled Cortana to the public during Build 2014. Microsoft chose the name Cortana due to a popular groundswell of fans who requested the name.
Jen Taylor, who currently voices Cortana in the Halo games, also voices the knowledge navigator for Windows Phone 8.1.
Look and Features
The current look of Cortana is both futuristic and minimalist, being represented as an orb with animation. From a pre-release description of Cortana by an inside source:
"The personality of Cortana is currently represented by a circle graphic that expresses what it's doing (searching, identifying music Cortana is currently represented by a circle graphic that expresses what it's doing (searching, identifying music à la the current Bing music listener built into Windows Phone, etc.) by various animations like spinning, flipping, etc. …more animations [have] come in over time, and the color is based on your theme color."
Cortana can integrate with third-party apps via a new API introduced by Microsoft at their 2014 Build conference. For instance, users can say "Foursquare...checkin" and the personal assistant launches the Foursquare app and brings up locations around you to choose for checking in. Cortana can set reminders, track your flights, tell you the weather, send messages, and answer questions. Cortana can also make NFL and other predictions and speak Klingon.
Currently, Cortana is available on Windows devices, however Microsoft has confirmed that Cortana will soon be available on Android devices as well.