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Microsoft's Cortana Is Now Available for iPhone, But Siri Is More Capable

Microsoft’s digital assistant software works well enough on the iPhone, but requires a PC to truly sing.

by Nicholas Deleon
Dec 9 2015, 6:17pm

Image: Nicholas Deleon

Microsoft has made good on its promise to bring Cortana, its digital assistant software, to the iPhone.

Released on Wednesday morning, Cortana for iPhone brings many of the same capabilities to Apple's mobile platform that are available on Windows, including the ability to set location-specific reminders and keep track of information such as package deliveries and sports scores.

This opens up the possibility of, say, having Cortana remind you to pick up chicken as you pass by your neighborhood grocery store on the way home from work.

What Cortana for iPhone can't do is things like reply to missed phone calls with text messages saying you'll call back soon. For that you'll need an Android or Windows-based smartphone and a PC running the latest version of Windows 10. You also can't activate Cortana with your voice on iPhone like you can on Android and Windows. Chalk that up to the tight restrictions that Apple places on how apps interact with iOS.

Is there any compelling reason, then, for someone thoroughly ensconced in Apple's ecosystem to give Cortana a shot? Probably not.

Siri, Apple's own digital assistant software that debuted with the iPhone 4s in late 2011, can also do things like set location-based reminders and search for nearby pizza joints. Even better, Siri can do that hands-free, since you can now invoke Siri by merely saying "Hey Siri." Siri can also interact with Apple's default apps—think "play music from Apple Music" or "show last year's vacation photos from the Photos app" type commands—in a way that Cortana simply cannot.

If that's the case, then why is Microsoft even bothering with an iPhone version? For one, under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft is all about making its products and services available on as many platforms as possible; gone are the days of Microsoft pretending that iOS doesn't exist. The iPhone version of the app is also handy for people who own a PC (such as myself). A good deal of my digital data is sitting in Microsoft's cloud, so having being able to tap into that data on my iPhone while on the go isn't something that should be automatically discounted.