Recently I switched from my beloved iPhone to a Windows Phone for work purposes. Leaving Siri (iPhone’s digital assistant) behind felt like a bad breakup. However, I got over ‘her’ fast when I cut over to my new phone just in time for the Windows Phone 8.1 update, which introduced me to Cortana.
Have you heard of Cortana? According to Microsoft, ‘Cortana is the name for the newly announced intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator for Windows Phone 8.1.’ In other words, if you have a Windows Phone, she’s your personal digital assistant who is happy to help you with your everyday tasks. She can answer your questions and push alerts to you as they arrive. She can offer up all sorts of information from custom news alerts to traffic notifications. And she offers some things that other services such as Siri and Google Now don’t, such as native integration with Microsoft’s OneNote note-taking software.
I’m not a gadget person by nature but in researching Cortana for this blog post, I discovered (and tested) some pretty powerful features that are certain to increase your productivity both in and outside, and even to, the office. Here are my top five:
Once Cortana knows where your home and work locations are (via the Settings menu), she can provide you with the most current traffic notifications and any traffic delays before you leave for work in the morning or head home in the evening. This way you can notify employees or family members that you might be late. She will even suggest a time when you should leave based on conditions and your calendar. Or if you ask her, she can provide an alternate route.
Use Cortana to ensure you don’t miss or forget anything during your day. Anytime a task you need to accomplish pops into your head, tap the Search icon or the Cortana tile, then tap the microphone and tell Cortana to remind you at a certain time and/or day. What’s more, Cortana can use your phone’s built-in GPS sensor to remind you to complete a task when you’re near a specific location. For example, you can say ‘Remind me to call xyz client when I get home,’ and — assuming you’ve already told Cortana where home is — you’ll be notified when you arrive at home.
OneNote is Microsoft’s note-taking application that helps you store and organize notes across all of your devices. Naturally, it is integrated with Cortana, allowing you to add notes or items to your OneNote account using voice commands. Just tap the microphone and say ‘take a note,’ then say your note. Immediately it will be synced across any of your Windows devices (phones, tablets, and/or desktop computers). When you open OneNote on any device, you can either view the transcribed text or listen to the recorded audio.
Having your phone ring or vibrate during critical meetings or when you’re heads-down on an important task can be distracting and dramatically reduce your productivity. With Cortana, you can set quiet times during which your phone will be automatically silenced. Just tap Quiet Times in Cortana’s settings menu to specify your desired times. What’s more, you can create an ‘inner circle’ to include key employees, colleagues, or family members who can still reach you during your set quiet times.
Ever find yourself driving to work and wondering which day it is and what it holds? Just ask Cortana to run through your calendar for you. She even understands when you ask her to schedule, reschedule, or cancel meeting requests. And in case you were wondering, Cortana and the Lync 2013 App for Windows Phone work together so you can ask Cortana to join or show a current meeting.
This is just the beginning of what Cortana can do to help you through your day. And by the way, if you don’t have a Windows Phone, Cortana’s coming to you on your PC with Windows 10 and even Xbox One, later this year.