It'd been a while since we'd heard any more on the supposed Siri competitor Microsoft was working up for its Windows phones. While Cortana may have been flying under the radar these past few months, it turns out she hasn't been forgotten or abandoned. In fact, a new rumor suggest the virtual personal assistant will be voice by the actual Halo actress.
Back in September, you might recall the initial reports about Microsoft's potential virtual assistant sharing a name with Master Chief's AI partner in crime, Cortana. All we knew at the time was that Microsoft had been working on a VPA for a few years, but the final product wouldn't be ready for a reveal until sometime after the start of 2014. Cut to January 2014, and it sounds like Cortana is still on track to redefine the Windows phone and more.
According to MSFTnerd, Cortana is on track for a beta release on Lumia devices in April in the U.S. Later this fall, the VPA is expected to expand to the Bing app for iPhone, with the potential to stretch to the Xbox One and Windows devices sometime in 2015. By the end of 2016, Cortana is purportedly going to be available in all English-speaking markets. What's most impressive however, is that Jen Taylor, voice actress of Cortana in Microsoft's Halo franchise, is believed to be lending her voice talents to the final product.
Taylor, who has some free time following the death of Cortana in Halo 4, has worked in the industry for quite some time. She's been the voice of Princess Peach and Toad since 1999's Mario Golf, though her tenure seemingly ended with 2007's Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. You might also recall her from her turn as Zoey in Left 4 Dead, or as a number of DOTA 2 characters. Currently, Taylor can be found narrating the web series RWBY. There's no telling if she'll be back in another Halo game just yet, but it certainly sounds as if her time as Cortana might not be as over as it first appeared.
As for Cortana the VPA, Microsoft is developing something it claims will be much more than a simple Siri or Google Now clone. The company is using three of its biggest assets in Tellme, Satori (part of Bing) and its massive cloud storage to provide a comprehensive search database that not only finds exactly what you're looking for, but is engineered to find it before you know you need it. It's reportedly being tailored to be adaptive to your previous decisions. Instead of just looking for movie times or dinner accommodations and providing you with some stock answers based on your location, Cortana will be powerful enough to search for restaurants comparable to places you've frequented before or find films you've shown similar interests in previously.
It might not be so believable had Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer himself not hinted at the possibilities in an open letter to the company's staff last summer. Ballmer described the upcoming changes to the user interface as drastic reinvention that would be "deeply personalized, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world." Think about that statement, then think about what you just learned Cortana could potentially be when it arrives. It's almost a shame Cortana might be confined to Windows phones early on, though the purported planned expansion to iOS sounds like people won't have to bail on their current phones just yet.