In what has to be the oddest Microsoft rumor so far this year, Reuters is reporting that Microsoft is planning to port its Cortana digital assistant to the iPhone and Android platforms.
All three smartphone platforms have their own digital assistant: Cortana for Windows Phone; iOS has Siri; and Android has Android Now. Each has their own quirks and unique capabilities. Cortana is notable for its fuller integration into a phone's contacts and taking time to learn your likes and preferences, plus its Bing integration.
Microsoft is already working to bring Cortana to Windows 10. It will likely be a cloud-based service, with just the basic client for input and content delivery on the PC but much of the heavy lifting done in the background online. That has yet to be confirmed, though.
And Reuters is confirming what has already been hinted at. Last November, Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft's Chief Experience Officer and former head of the Windows division, was asked if Cortana would be made available on other operating systems, and she said "yeah."
Reuters says that Microsoft is working on an advanced version of Cortana using research from an artificial intelligence project called "Einstein." It was described by Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research and a part of the Einstein project, to a Reuters reporter as technology "which can read and understand email," and will "play a central role in the next roll out of Cortana," which is scheduled for the fall time frame. He did not go into details.
Such a move fits in with CEO Satya Nadella's new "mobile first, cloud first" mindset. Microsoft recently released a touch-friendly version of Office 365 for smartphones and tablets on iOS first, not Windows. The thing is, offering a tablet-friendly version of Office could conceivably help Microsoft sell more Office apps or subscriptions.
It's not really clear how Cortana for iPhone will help sell Microsoft software, even if it does have a Mac version of Windows. Plus, many people who use both the iPhone and Android phones hate Microsoft and shun its products. You're not going to see many of those people adopt Cortana.
So for now, I look forward to seeing their strategy more than the technology.