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Microsoft to strip back Cortana in Windows 10 update

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Microsoft has quietly announced in a blog post that its virtual assistant Cortana will no longer support “consumer skills” such as music and smart home features in Windows 10.

Cortana, which was first released in 2014, has failed to catch on as a voice-activated assistant amid stiff competition from Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, all of which have established consumer-friendly reputations.

Cortana was intended to appear all across Microsoft’s consumer offerings – with integration into Windows mobile devices and the Xbox One, and with availability across other mobile ecosystems – although Microsoft has since shifted Cortana’s focus towards enterprise. According to The Register, the original concept of Cortana as a consumer voice assistant was killed off around the time that Microsoft exited the smartphone market in 2017.

Now, Microsoft has announced that it will be stripping back Cortana’s consumer features in the first Windows 10 update of 2020: “Consumer skills including music, connected home and third-party skills will no longer be available in the updated Cortana experience,” the blog post said.

Microsoft will also be turning off Cortana in the Microsoft Launcher on Android by the end of April, having already removed Cortana for iOS and Android in the UK, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada and India earlier this year.

Following this rollback, most users will no longer be able to use Cortana unless they are logged into their Microsoft online account, school account, or work account on a PC running a recent version of Windows.

The Microsoft blog post, written by Cortana VP Andrew Shuman, appears to suggest that Cortana will no longer compete with consumer-focused virtual assistants and will instead function as a search and productivity tool for the workplace. US-based Microsoft 365 users will get a reworked Cortana offering “enhanced, seamless personal productivity assistance”, helping workers with tasks such as checking calendars, adding to to-do lists, and setting reminders (sounding not unlike a virtual take on Microsoft's widely mocked Clippy assistant of yore).

Schuman also said that the new Cortana would also feature a chat-based UI, which opens up the option of interacting with Cortana using the keyboard rather than by speaking. As Microsoft currently requires users to consent to their voice recordings being collected in order to use Cortana in Windows 10, this change may be welcomed by privacy-conscious users; Microsoft was among the tech companies named and shamed last year for having humans listen to voice recordings unwittingly captured from users.

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