Microsoft has recently begun rolling out an iOS beta version of Cortana, its personal assistant named after a Halo character, to lucky testers.
After setting up Cortana with your Microsoft account, you’ll see the Cortana’s Home section. Here, you’ll see a collection of cards that provide you with information before you even ask. These include weather and news.
Sadly, “Hey Cortana” is not available in the Cortana for iOS beta, so you have to tap the blue mic button in the bottom right corner of the screen to speak to Cortana.
You can ask Cortana to complete a variety of tasks, ranging from texting your best friend to telling you a joke. Yes, Cortana can compose texts, but in a very awkward way. After you’ve told her to whom the message should be sent and what it should contain, you are taken to a message creation interface, which feels like a poorly designed web app. When you are ready to send the message, you tap the “Send” button and a standard iOS message view appears on your screen with the recipient and message body already entered. Then, you have to tap another “Send” button. That’s two send buttons, one more than Siri, Apple’s equivalent of Cortana, has.
At least Cortana can tell good jokes like I mentioned earlier.
Cortana can also make phone calls and compose emails. Cortana does the former very well, but her only email-related feature is the ability to summon an email composition view, which really isn’t all that helpful.
Cortana can also add events to your device’s calendar. When asked to create a calendar event, Cortana summons a view that looks strikingly similar to the view that the preinstalled calendar app uses to create events.
In addition to calendar events, Cortana contains the ability to create reminders. This may seem helpful, but it really isn’t. Even the default iOS reminder application has a better user interface, due to the fact that Cortana’s is downright ugly and unintuitive. You can’t group, prioritize, or add notes to reminders in Cortana. All of those things can easily be done in the preinstalled reminders app, so there is no reason whatsoever to use Cortana-based reminders.
Cortana even does a bad job when being asked simple questions. For instance, ask her “How many calories are in a cucumber?” It’s a simple fact-based question which a good personal assistant should, in theory, be able to answer. Cortana cannot answer this, like many other questions. Instead, she simply does a Bing search for the question. Siri, unlike Cortana, can effortlessly answer this question. This demonstrates how Cortana cannot even stack up to its competition in a basic area: answering factual questions.
At this point in time, Cortana for iOS beta is a very low-quality personal assistant. Cortana’s interface feels and performs like a web app, Cortana’s texting capabilities are awkward, Cortana’s calendar and reminder capabilities are either identical or worse than those of iOS’s default applications, and Cortana’s answers to most questions tend to be Bing searches instead of actual answers. Hopefully Cortana for iOS will drastically improve before a stable version of it is released, otherwise it will have a difficult time competing with other personal assistants for iOS such as Siri.