One of the promises of Windows 10 is the ability to unite various platforms and streamline the user experience across the PC, mobile devices and even gaming consoles in your living room. Today Microsoft announced the public beta of Cortana for Android to extend that cross-platform functionality to the number one mobile device system in the world.
Ideally, Microsoft would prefer that you enjoy that cross-platform experience on a Windows Phone device but it’s willing to co-opt Android as well. The reality is that Windows Phone has barely enough market share to even register as a competing mobile platform and Microsoft has been not-so-subtly hijacking Android from the inside for a while now.
Microsoft plans to make Cortana available as an app for iOS as well, but the closed, proprietary nature of the iOS platform will make it much more difficult for Microsoft to subjugate the primary operating system or replace Siri. Android, on the other hand, is an open source platform with very few limitations in terms of what developers can do or how users can customize its functionality.
Microsoft explains, “The Cortana app can do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone. With the app, you can manage your hectic lifestyle by setting and getting reminders, searching the web on-the-go, tracking important information such as flight details as well as starting and completing tasks across all of your devices.”
In other words, you can effectively replace the Google Now functionality with Cortana. There are still some limitations, though—even with Android. “You will also see a few differences between what Cortana can do today in her “native” environment (Windows) and in the app on Android. For example toggling settings, opening apps or invoking Cortana hands-free by saying “Hey Cortana” are only available on Windows for now.”
Cortana for Android is a brilliant strategic move for Microsoft. Windows Phone market share is far too small to deliver on the promise of seamless cross-platform functionality for Windows 10. Android is the leading smartphone operating system around the world so giving users the ability to choose Cortana as the default virtual assistant on Android devices instantly creates hundreds of millions of possible Windows 10 fans.
Microsoft has already made OneNote and the rest of the Microsoft Office apps available for Android, as well as OneDrive and a slew of other apps. It’s all part of Microsoft’s recent shift to embrace rival platforms and dominate all of them rather than simply trying to compete with them head-to-head. The Houston Chronicle’s Dwight Silverman noted earlier this year that Microsoft actually offers a rather impressive inventory of apps for both iOS and Android.