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Cortana Improvement Ideas

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The digital personal assistant in Windows Phone 8.1 Preview is very impressive to say the least. Considering Cortana is still in beta, it’s remarkable to see how she competes with Siri and Google Now on iOS and Android (respectively). There are a few features, however, that could use some improvement.

  1. Recognizing punctuation: Right now, if you send Cortana a command like, “Text my brother hello Donald period, how are things at home question mark” it literally sends just that…without punctuation. Receiving such a command and sending a “Hello Donald. How are things at home?” message would be pretty neat, considering some of Cortana’s competitors can already do that.
  2. Differentiating between “fun” responses and command responses: It’s fun to hear the many creative responses Cortana was programed to make when you give her certain commands or ask her certain fun questions, like “Do you like Bill Gates” or more recently “Do an impersonation.” But sometimes Cortana prioritizes a search instead of a “fun” response, which can be disappointing when you’re expecting a witty retort. A good solution to this might be, when prefacing a command with, “Cortana,” she would prioritize more “fun” responses, rather than treating it like a more useful command. A command excluding her name would automatically prioritize more functional commands. For example, saying, “Cortana, do you hear what I hear” would prioritize her saying a fun response, as opposed to just saying “do you hear what I hear” (which might lead to a search with results for the lyrics to Little Drummer Boy, for instance).
  3. Improved nickname functionality: A neat feature about Cortana is being able to assign nicknames to your contacts. This includes having her remember who your siblings, uncle-in-law, and other family members are. There are actually three spots for custom nicknames per contact. This means I can have “brother,” “Don” and “Donny” under my nicknames for Donald Kimball. This is a nice feature, except when you’re trying to be clever and put something unconventional like “a techie” as a nickname. Something I’ve tried to do is assign “a techie” as a nickname for several of my contacts, so that when I tell Cortana “Call a techie,” she would respond with “which one?” just as she would if I said a first name that applied to more than one contact in my People hub. This, however, doesn’t quite work, and she often has to ask again who I am trying to call (while there have been some exceptions). So Cortana being less confused in this area would be helpful.
  4. Flight and travel: When you agree to let Cortana look through your mail (if and only if you do so) she can find travel information in your mail. This means she can intelligently find what flights you’re on, and give you dynamic information about those flights. This includes boarding information, times of departure, and more. Right now, however, there aren’t ways to manually include what flights you’re on in case Cortana misses a few of your itineraries. I’d also like to see a more developed way for Cortana to handle your flights, at what hotels you’re staying, and what you’ve packed. Rather than being under “interests,” a whole travel section which could interface with the Bing Travel app would be perfect. Imagine having reminders automatically set for plane departure times, or what items to pack when.
  5. Listing notes taken: If you use the command “take a note,” Cortana records your voice as well as writes down what you said for you in a new OneNote page. It’s incredibly useful. However, unless you open the OneNote app, there doesn’t appear to be a way of viewing what notes you’ve taken via Cortana. Also, rather than making a new page in the “Personal (Web)” set of notes each time, maybe being able to choose where your save your note, or at least specifying where your default Cortana notes go would be a nice touch.

 

If you’ll notice, most of these improvement ideas are just small tweaks to the current Cortana. She’s already improved a lot in just the month or so she’s been out in the Developer Preview. I’m excited to see where Microsoft takes her and she continues to improve.