How Headphones Are Keeping the Microsoft Cortana Mobile App Alive, But Only in the USA
A little over a month after first spelling out the end for the stand-alone Cortana voice assistant mobile app for Android and iOS app on its software update page, Microsoft confirmed in a VentureBeat interview that the app, along with Cortana in Microsoft Launcher, will vanish on January 31 worldwide. Only in the U.S., where the Surface Headphones have provided a stay of execution, will the Cortana mobile app still be supported.
The update to Microsoft’s support page coincided with Cortana vanishing from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store in every country outside of the U.S. The inconsistency is largely due to the Surface Headphones, according to Andrew Shuman, the head of Microsoft’s Cortana team. The Cortana mobile app is necessary for keeping the Surface Headphones firmware up-to-date. There isn’t any other mobile app that can handle that task at the moment. That leaves international Surface Headphones owners in a bit of a bind. Their only option is to use Cortana for Windows to update the headphones. The extra step isn’t likely to attract new buyers in other countries, but Shuman said in the interview that the Cortana mobile app wasn’t garnering much of the market where it is ending anyway.
Microsoft is more focused on its next audio device, the Surface Earbuds. The truly wireless earphones were originally set to be released for the holiday season, but are now expected to arrive in several countries the coming spring. The $249 earbuds can support several different voice assistants but are designed to work best with Cortana. The Surface Earbuds will debut with a Surface Audio mobile app to manage the earbuds. The Surface Earbuds are priced notably higher than most consumer earbuds partly because of how they integrate Cortana with Microsoft Office 365. Wearers will be able to read and respond to emails on Outlook, dictate a Word document, and run PowerPoint presentations with real-time commentary, tapping the earbuds to advance the slides.
Cortana’s Enterprise Evolution
Keeping the Cortana mobile app going in the U.S. also allows Microsoft to continue to experiment with the voice assistant, Shuman said. That makes sense, as Microsoft isn’t getting rid of the voice assistant, just shifting its focus. Much like VoicebotMicrosoft’s strategy now is to build up the business and enterprise side of Cortana.
The launch of the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise last year started the change in earnest. Microsoft is integrating the voice assistant into Office 365 and other enterprise services, including the Outlook mobile app. Cortana has left most of its consumer products including those built by Microsoft like the Xbox One, Skype, and Windows 10. It appeared last week that Cortana was disappearing from the Harman Kardon Invoke, one of the few smart speakers using the voice assistant, but that issue seems to be resolved.