Several months ago, Julie Larson-Green, Chief Experience Officer of Microsoft’s “My Life and Work” team, was quoted as saying, “The short answer is, yeah,” in response to the query asking if there were plans to bring Cortana, Microsoft’s very personal digital assistant, to other operating systems. This naturally set off a firestorm of articles and commentary throughout the blogosphere and on social media. This of course was an issue that we thought settled months earlier when Marcus Ash, Group Product Manager for Cortana, mitigated a similar firestorm ignited by similar comments he made in June of 2014. But here we were again pondering if one of Windows Phones most loved and desired exclusive features would be making the trip to the industry’s more popular platforms. Windows Phone fans were not in the least bit pleased.
There are few features Windows fans can claim as exclusively their own. This is particularly more poignant as Satya Nadella’s, Microsoft’s CEO’s, “cloud first, mobile first” strategy has seen many of Microsoft’s products and services, from legacy products like Office to new products like Office Sway, launch on rival platforms before or in better iterations than on Microsoft’s own devices. Many Microsoft faithful have cried foul. Especially after Julie’s cryptic yet precise statement. Of all features not Cortana.
Julie’s words were very clear. “The short answer is, yeah.” The meaning however is less clear, a bit cryptic even. What we do know is that Cortana, per Julie, would be going to other operating systems. That can mean a couple of things. One is that Cortana would be making a home on other devices within Microsoft’s ecosystem. Or the less appealing option, Cortana would be making her way to iOS and android.
So which scenario was Julie alluding to? If scenario number one, then Microsoft’s Window 10 event has seen the fulfillment of her words with Cortana’s appearance on the Windows desktop. Kind of. Windows 10 is, per Microsoft’s marketing message, one operating system running across a family of devices from IoT devices, phones, tablets, PC and TVs. But technically different SKUs of Windows 10 are designed for different form factors though there is a shared core. So if Windows on desktop is considered a different OS(different SKU) than Windows on phone then maybe Windows fans can rest easy and their beloved digital assistant has transitioned to other OS’s, tablets and PCs, without leaving the Microsoft ecosystem.
Suppose however Windows 10 is indeed being viewed, diverse SKUs and all, as a single OS across phones, tablets and PCs? Well if that’s the case Cortana’s appearance on the desktop is not her being brought to other operating systems. Uh-Oh. Siri, you’re in serious trouble. Google, now is a good time to make room for company. iOS and android here comes Cortana, and Windows fans it might not be that bad.
One of the many new products Microsoft debuted during the Windows 10 event on Wednesday January 21st 2015 was their new, slick, streamlined modern web browser codenamed the Project Spartan which is aimed to take on Apple’s Safari and Googles Chrome. This browser debuts many great innovations such as the ability for a user to add annotations to actual webpages either via touch or keyboard and to share those annotated pages with others. This is a first for any browser. Yet the real standout feature is Cortana integration in Microsoft’s project Spartan browser. Cortana, in project Spartan facilitates search, recognizes content on web pages you visit and utilizes her greatest strength – her ability to learn about you –to offer relevant and personal information to a user as they navigate a webpage. No other browser on the market offers this level of personal support. No other browser integrates a personal digital assistant that gets to know the user. No other browser has Cortana.
Microsoft’s internet presence is meager. In the age of mobile computing and nearly ubiquitous smartphones most of our internet activity is happening on our mobile devices. With a combined 97% market share in the mobile space, android and iOS devices, with their Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers, are scouring the web far more prolifically than Microsoft’s barely represented Internet Explorer.
Microsoft needs to grow its internet presence. The strategy to accomplish this goal is likely multifaceted. One, Microsoft needs to sale more devices upon which its new project Spartan browser resides. With the elimination of licensing fees for devices under 9” and the lowering of hardware standards for Windows Phones, Microsoft has seen an uptake in the sale of low cost Windows tablets and a surge of higher end windows devices as well. A number of OEM partners have joined Microsoft and have already begun releasing Windows Phones or have committed to do so. As more devices hit the market Microsoft’s Project Spartan browser will begin to proliferate. This is one prong of a possible two pronged strategy. The less aggressive of the two.
Launching the Project Spartan Browser on iOS and Android, with all of its Cortana integrated glory, is the other. This is of course the bolder and more audacious approach. By offering a browser with a feature set not yet found on rival browsers to users of competing devices Microsoft opens the door to making its internet presence much more profound. Microsoft wants this. They need this to be relevant in the mobile space. And in this “cloud first, mobile first” era, this fits well within the realm of their current business model and mobile strategy. And it does bring Cortana to other operating systems.
The Project Spartan Browser would likely appeal to users of rival platforms because it, in its fresh, new sleek and well “spartan” form, escapes the negative legacy of Microsoft’s much maligned Internet Explorer. With the added appeal of unique innovative features and an integrated personal assistant, it very well may become the browser of choice for many iOS and Android users if it were to one day make it to, or infiltrate, those platforms. Yes an efficient infiltration of rival territory while winning the hearts of its denizens is a classic Spartan move. Project Spartan. Yes, this strategy could be one of the reasons why Microsoft has been very clear in dubbing this entire “new browser initiative” Project Spartan rather than simply settling on the name “Spartan” for it’s new potentially industry disrupting browser. It very well may be more than an effort to rehash it’s own browser on it’s own platform, but a comprehensive strategy, a project, to introduce a new browser alternative laden with Microsoft services to the entire mobile landscape. What better moniker than Spartan for such a bold and aggressive push into enemy territory?
Actually, the “enemy” territory is indeed somewhat fractured in that most of the world uses PCs – 1.5 Billion of us. That means that most of the iOS and Android toting mobile device users have a PC at home and work that Microsoft is offering to upgrade to its latest Cortana enhanced OS for free within the first year of its launch for Windows 7 and up. Get it. Cortana, with her all knowing (with permission) Notebook will be getting to know these iOS and Android users on their PC (just as she does Windows Phone users today). As they use the Project Spartan Cortana enhanced browser on their iOS or Android devices the personal information Cortana has learned of the user on Cortana on their PC/and project Spartan browser also on PC will be coupled with what she has learned from thier browsing habits on thier mobile devices for a personalized browsing experience on their iOS or android device. Akin to how the Bing website culls interests and that personalized experience transcends devices even now after a user logs in, a similar login will likely help facilitate the personalization of the Project Spartan Browser on iOS and Android. With an additional option for the Project Spartan Browser on a mobile device to recognize a users location the personalization features of the Cortana enhanced browser improve.
Of course the Project Spartan Browser with Cortana in tow brings with it Bing, for Cortana is essentially Bing. If this Project Spartan initiative is indeed what I propose here, and it is successful Microsoft will be putting Bing at the fingertips of millions of iOS and Android users. Such a bold strategy could see Bing’s market share grow dramatically.
Finally, this is good news to those in the Windows camp because it continues to build Microsoft’s, “cool factor” within the market where Microsoft’s services are the “chosen” rather than the “required” solution. Additionally though Cortana technically makes a presence on rival platforms – we here in the Windows camp are the only ones who will have Cortana proper in all her personal, fully OS integrated digital assistant glory. In Satya Nadella’s words, Microsoft’s ecosystem is “home” for Microsoft services. Put simply, the best experience is on a Windows device.