Cortana Jumps on the App Train (with Surprising Results)

I’ve covered in detail how Google is indexing and recommending apps in search results (as well as why this does not mean you should make an app). Google has not been the only one active on this front, however. Apps are, essentially, just content in a special package; our biggest tech companies increasingly want to crack that package open and offer the content wherever they can.

That’s exactly what Microsoft is doing with Cortana, its answer to Siri. As Search Engine Land reports, Microsoft just announced substantial integration between Cortana and apps. At first I thought that news was a yawn: if Google can search app content, of course Bing/Cortana can too. But Cortana is doing a surprising amount more.

Cortana’s New Edge

The advantages Cortana offers come in two forms. First off, Cortana is not just for mobile devices anymore. Starting with Windows 10, she will be in all versions of Microsoft devices, from the phone to the tablet to, yes, the desktop computer. That’s the kind of change that seems minor in advance, but will be deafening once we’re used to it; in three years the idea that you can’t ask your laptop questions, out loud, will sound as weird as a phone that can’t browse the internet.

On the app front, that means that Cortana’s app-integration will presumably include devices that currently don’t use many apps. For instance, imagine asking your laptop to send a Whatsapp message when Whatsapp is only installed on your phone.

But more important is how that app integration will work. Currently, digital assistants like Siri or Cortana can basically just open an app for you. But the new version of Cortana will actually do in-app actions at your command.

Want an example? Let’s say you’re driving. Hands free, you ask Cortana to find pizza restaurants near you with the best reviews using Yelp. Or you ask her to send a Whatsapp message to two of your friends. She doesn’t just open Yelp or Whatsapp for you; she completes the job using the app you specified.

Under the Hood

Right now the in-app functionality is determined by the app designers themselves. Microsoft allows app coders to specify whether a given option can be performed by Cortana or in-app only. Presumably, this is to avoid any clunkiness; it’s easy to tell Whatsapp to send a message, but checking your calorie counter app might be better accomplished by actually looking at the app. Thus, the onus of the UX for the new functionality rests on designers themselves—a fair enough decision.

Google, of course, is doing something similar. Siri is the one currently lagging behind on app integration.

This still doesn’t (necessarily) mean your business should have an app. For most companies the best policy is to make your website itself as valuable and easy to use as possible, especially on mobile.

Need help doing that? EverSpark offers a free consultation. Give us a call today.