It has been almost four years since Apple introduced Siri to the world and that informative, sometimes sassy voice has become massively popular around the world.  

The dream of having and intelligent personal assistant that responds properly to user voice commands was long the dream of busy folk and science fiction movies for decades. Apple’s Siri, available on iPhone, iPad and iPod, made this a reality.  

The Battle of the Virtual Assistants

Now Microsoft is getting in on the act with their own Cortana intelligent personal assistant for Windows phones. Long lampooned for always riding the technological coattails of Apple, Microsoft has created a voice commanded personal assistant that might just be able to go toe-to-toe with Siri.  

Here’s some key features of Siri and Cortana and just how they match up. 

Device Support

Voice activated and directed technology has been a holy grail of designers and technocrats, with many attempts falling short over the years.  

Siri, especially with constant, rolling updates proved that it was not an impossible dream. Apple always capitalises on success and rolled Siri out to three of its five main devices – the iPhone, iPad and iPod, with MacBooks and desktop Macs so far going without.  

Similarly, Cortana currently only runs on Windows smartphones, with no desktop support. Windows is working to deliver Cortana to older models of their phones by the summer season. 

Whilst controlling a phone or other device via voice is massively useful, desktop control would represent a completely new level of the game. The ability to seamlessly pull up documents, use email or VoIP and browse the internet via voice would constitute a new era of interactivity.  

Windows and Apple are both working on bringing their respective intelligent assistants to desktop and laptop, with Windows 9 and the next iteration of Mac OS X being the likely starting points.  

  • The iPod, iPhone and iPad support Siri, whilst Cortana is restricted to Windows Smartphones.
  • Both Apple and Windows hope to provide desktop and laptop support with their next major OS updates. 

The Winner: Siri wins this round just by virtue of having more device platforms to cover. Microsoft cannot currently compete with the range and marketplace entrenchment that Apple has. Things may change in the future depending on laptop and desktop computer implementation but, as it stands, Siri wins.  

Personalised Experience

As well as wanting an intelligent personal assistant, the dream of a voice-operated device is that it will learn from the user’s preferences and become a truly personalised experience.  

This is something that Microsoft is keenly aware of and has focused on with Cortana.  

Siri, whilst powerful and becoming more accurate every day, essentially provides the same experience for every user, no matter how long they have been using it for. Microsoft views this as one of the major weaknesses of Siri and aims to take advantage.  

For example, Cortana has a notebook that it uses to store personal data and create a personalised experience.  

This takes the form of Cortana’s intricate knowledge about the user’s life, from friends who have a book of theirs through to reminding the user about flight times. If the user lends a book to a friend, they can then tell Cortana to tell them about it later. The next time the user goes to call, text or email their friend, Cortana will chime in with the reminder.  

This is an extremely useful feature, providing very real assistance and is something that Siri has no answer to.  

  • Siri provides a more generic experience, which is the same across all users.  
  • Windows recognises this and designed Cortana to be a much more personalised experience. 
  • Cortana uses personal data to make timely reminders for a number of things.  

The Winner: 

Cortana wins on this score. It provides an experience directly linked to its user’s life and needs, which is, after all, what most people want in an intelligent personal assistant. Siri, with all of its character, simply does not yet provide a singular experience.  

Third Party Apps

A major part of the modern world is interconnection. The ability to link information from any number of sources – social media, taste in films and books and business networks to name a few sources, is extremely important for many people.  

It is a shame, then, that Siri currently has no access to third party apps. This is a clear restriction on its functionality which, to be a true intelligent assistant, needs access to everything that the user needs access to.  

Windows has announced that Cortana will have the ability to access other apps from third parties. In terms of usability, this gives Cortana a big advantage over Siri.  

Cortana has the ability to use social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to add friends and business associates to your ‘inner circle’. Likewise, if the user wants to download a book or TV show, Cortana can do this no problem.  

  • Siri cannot access third party apps, restricting functionality. 
  • Cortana can use third party apps like social platforms to add friends and associates to the user’s inner circle.
  • Cortana can also download books, films or TV shows from third party apps.  

The Winner: Cortana is the clear winner; its access to third parties gives it the edge because it gives the user quick, unfettered access to what they want when they want it.  

Siri is more entrenched in the marketplace than Cortana, via the sheer market dominance of Apple and the fact that it can operate on a number of platforms. This gives Siri the edge when it comes to using an established, refined product.  

Cortana is newer, but comes with creates a more personalised experience, drawing this from the user’s experiences and preferences. Seamless access to third party apps only sweetens the deal. 

Overall, it is hard to separate the two. Siri offers an established intelligent system, whilst Cortana might just overtake it in time with its better personalisation and accessibility.  

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