Will Halo’s Cortana become the face of mobile & PC search marketing in the future?
Gamers circa 2003 and fans of the first-person shooter classic Halo will be all too familiar with the name Cortana: the sexualised female AI partner of the Master Chief who seemed capable of hacking every database, answering any query, mapping out all terrains and generally representing the pinnacle of technological achievement.
And having successfully launched a real-life version of Cortana earlier this year for mobile devices, Microsoft has now unveiled its intention to integrate the next-generation AI facility into their upcoming Windows 10 software, marking the next logical step in the programmes development from its current status as the Digital Assistant of Window’s Phone owners.
Developed as Microsoft’s answer to Siri, and released to a huge furore earlier on this year, Cortana has taken the concept of query-responsive artificial intelligence to a whole new level; a reality that has been repeatedly emphasised by the technological giants through regular media releases mocking Apple’s resident AI, Siri.
Cortana continued to impress during this summer, successfully predicting the outcome of 15 of the 16 World Cup games it attempted to forecast through a complex analysis of past and present factors about the teams involved.
It seems safe to say that the company are confident in the ability of Cortana, and the eyes of the world will be firmly on the company’s Windows convention in San Francisco later this month, set to be focused round her integration into Window’s 10.
So, what does Cortana have to do with marketing?
In particular, businesses of all industries which market themselves online should carefully observe the comments made by officials of Microsoft regarding Cortana’s new features, as her evolution could directly correlate with a company’s ability to connect their brand’s content with consumers worldwide.
This is because of the rising prominence of digital assistants, such as Siri and Cortana, for conducting online searches, with both being fully enabled to answer both verbal and typed queries from their users. This is already revolutionising the discovery process for mobile searchers who now have substantially easier access to brand content and businesses information than ever before.
Yes, AI voice assistants are still in their infancy, though it is highly plausible to forecast that they could end up serving as connectors between the consumer world and content released by brands.
Microsoft’s programme manager for the Cortana project, Marcus Ash, has recently confirmed that she will ultimately be able to collect and store data about users’ personal preferences and interests, and share this with external apps – representing a huge opportunity for marketers to expose their brands more and establish relationships with prospective consumers if this were to manifest in reality.
Cortana already has a facility which enables creators to “deep link” applications, which has meant that mobile users are able to visit apps and selectively browse content within it via voice commanding. Ash asserted his belief that this feature will eventually evolve into something far more significant, with AI programmes such as Cortana being capable of automatically directing users to appropriate apps to their preferences, an occurrence that brands could hugely benefit from.
“Once we have this collection of data – home, work, who’s most important to you, what type of content you think is most important – and the person gives permission for Cortana to share that with key targeted apps, that’s…information that apps can and should use,” he said during a Social Media week conference in London.
Nevertheless, Ash has identified that he doesn’t expect these revolutionary AI programmes to provide competition to the current order of search platforms and targeted advertising. It is however possible that they could present a challenge to Google’s huge dominance in this area by re-directing mobile consumers directly to applications; lowering their need to rely on Google’s search engine.
Ash argued: “Apps are in a much better position to take that data, with permission, and serve up interesting content.
“It’s going to be about the discovery process. We really want to make apps the first-class citizens of Cortana, because we think there’s value to our customers and we think there’s value to our app ecosystem.
“We can help people discover your app. If [a user] asks a question about doing something interesting that’s app-related, we could say, ‘Hey there’s an app that could help you with that, would you like me to share your profile to do richer and more interesting things for you?’. We could broker that connection. That’s the future of these assistants.”
However, any rise to dominance by AI programmes such as Cortana will likely take time, as the consumer world gets to grips with utilising them in their day-to-day living. Despite being around for a long time now, you will still struggle to find a large selection of people on the high street speaking to Siri for search queries, and Cortana will most likely experience the same in the immediate future as it integrates itself into the consumer world.
Microsoft’s critics have already circled round their proposals to introduce Cortana to Windows 10, arguing that her implementation into the programme is needless in an era of on-the-go users and PC decline.
However, for their part Microsoft seem to have anticipated these jibes, highlighting their intention to supply a “mobile” kind of experience for Cortana users on the PC that connects them to sites in a similar manner to her incarnation on the mobile.
Neowin has also suggested that Cortana might reach the level of semantic inference previously discussed quicker than expected, pointing out that Microsoft intend to update her functionality at least twice a month; an alarming reality if you are Apple.
“The cool thing about Cortana is that since Microsoft is updating her functionality so frequently, those features are also included in the desktop version as well. Microsoft has already said that Cortana will be updated at least twice a month which means that by the time Threshold launches, Cortana will be significantly more robust than today.”
Queen of the Smartphone set to conquer Bing?
A multitude of websites have reiterated analytical remarks taken from prior discussion by Neowin, which outlined that Cortana would be a core component of the Windows 10 experience.
According to Neowin: “As of right now, Cortana is an app; it’s a simple app that opens up the personal digital assistant where you can then either type in your question or ask verbally inside a smallish window. It’s not a full screen experience like you see on Windows Phone”.
Cortana’s meteoric rise and firm-place in Window’s vision for the future has also brought into question the future of Bing, and how exactly the AI programme and the faltering search engine platform will exist together without one displacing the other. Current holders of the Window’s Phone can instigate a search by utilising Cortana, in the same manner that owners of the iPhone do with Siri (utilising Bing). It is thus logical to assume that the Cortana search facility will be present on the upcoming Windows 10 release, though major questions will now be asked whether her integration will relegate the brand of Bing to a secondary player in the upcoming OS.
Microsoft might regard Cortana as a key differential between itself and its competitors that raises the allure of purchasing a PC, with recent company sales figures for these devices confirming the decline of the old school computer and the rise of mobile software. With recent forecasts asserting that Google will outsell Microsoft by 3 times next year, they will need to hope that the AI programme, which captured the affections of so many in the gaming world, experiences the same success in reality, and evolves to a level where they can shape and dominate the future of online mobile and PC advertising.