Cortana Was Absent From CES and Nobody Seemed to Care
This year, more than others, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas felt like one facing the future. By contrast, last year appeared to be companies flexing their muscles, showing what happens when innovation falls to inspiration. I mean, how many ways can you repackage a 4K panel or a high-flying drone?
Underscoring all of the new gadgets from last year, 2017 was also the most significant push for smart devices, with Amazon's Alexa making it's way in to, well, everything. This year was more of the same, but with Google's move to put the digital assistant at the heart of all their software endeavors, "Hey Google" was almost everywhere.
That brings us to the next most significant digital assistant willing to be agnostic, and that is Microsoft's Cortana. This critical distinction helps keep this discussion cohesive as it is easy to admit that Apple's Siri and Samsung's Bixby are getting big and growing fast, they just are not built to play with other devices.
On the other hand, Microsoft's Cortana is.
Some of the most prominent announcements out of Google and Amazon camps were not necessarily their advancements, but their partnerships. LG had stuff Alexa into their new smart TVs, Westinghouse had a new Android panel on display (to compliment their Fire TV released last year), and Lenovo's Smart Display came packed with a Google Assistant.
For Microsoft, the biggest announcement was that their four important OEMs - Acer, ASUS, HP, and Lenovo - are bringing Amazon's Alexa natively to their Windows 10 devices. Not even as an app either. It was a full-blown surrender to a superior voice assistant. It's worth noting that "Hey Cortana" and "Alexa" wake words both responded appropriately, but that doesn't soften the blow for Microsoft.
What's happening is that Cortana is, in a single word, boring. It just does not command the same respect both from a technical or consumer standpoint. Currently, Cortana offers 174 skills as of October last year, while Amazon had 17,650 at the same time. For the record, Amazon grew to 25,000 skills at the end of the year, a 266% increase for 2017.
At the same time, Amazon and Google ended the year owning nearly 94% of the market, against a small 6% sliver of 'other voice assistants' according to a report from Edison Research.
Outnumber, outgunned, and outplayed, Cortana is on its last leg. But maybe it isn't all doom and gloom for the digital assistant.
Falling in line with CES, Cortana also had some big announcements for 2018. One of the biggest was that Microsoft says its in-house assistant has over 161 million active users, but it's unclear in what capacity those users are accessing the service.
And yes, losing it's exclusivity to Amazon on Windows 10 devices is a major hit, Microsoft is moving Cortana from Windows Search to the Action Center, a move that might be risky but the reward is a tighter grip on the OS. After all, it was Microsoft's extreme advantage to start on PCs and Xbox consoles across the nation, even if that opportunity is shrinking daily. OEMs such as Synaptics, Qualcomm, Allwinner, and TONLY are also on board, creating "reference designs for new Cortana experiences.
What happened to the ambitious Microsoft that brought us Cortana just months after Siri? What happened to the inspiration for the widely anticipated Kinect? Why hasn't Microsoft taken this seriously?
Obviously, Cortana is here to stay. Microsoft wouldn't pull the plug on this technology in the advent of it being the next biggest thing since the smartphone. As a whole, the company has been pretty driven to get the most out of artificial intelligence, making Cortana its poster child for the future.