Microsoft Updates Cortana with Voice Meeting Planning in Outlook and Surface Earbuds Support
Microsoft Outlook users can now use the Cortana virtual assistant to set up and confirm meetings by voice. The ability is part of a package of new and updated features for the AI assistant rolling out as Microsoft continues to enfold Cortana into its productivity products.
Cortana first started reading Outlook emails in November, but it was a simple text-to-speech element. Now, meeting invitations sent through Outlook can also be accepted, denied, or set up by voice command. The AI is also capable of spotting when the person emailing the user mentions a time-sensitive issue and will use their calendar to suggest a half-hour meeting whenever there is open time. Cortana can also connect emails to the calendar task list, pulling up a user’s schedule with a voice command. The new features are limited to iOS for the moment, although Android will be supported soon.
The meetings arrangement aspect ties into previous rumors about Cortana. For one, the voice assistant is now officially set to integrate into the Microsoft Teams app, allowing users to make calls jump into meetings via voice request, as well as share documents. The same goes for the reported Briefing email Cortana can provide. These are personalized messages sent to Outlook that Cortana can read. The AI scans the inbox and pulls any relevant or unreviewed requests and documents, making suggestions on potential priorities. Right now, Briefing is available only for First Release for Microsoft 365 Enterprise users with Exchange Online mailboxes in English.
The other big addition to Cortana is support for the new, long-delayed Microsoft Surface Earbuds. Designed to engage directly with Office 365 via Cortana, the $200 hearables (originally announced at $250) come with touch controls that can now be used with Outlook. Swiping on the surface of the earbuds lets users go through their emails, organizing and deleting as needed. All of the changes to Cortana have, notably, arrived right after the conclusion of Microsoft Build, the big conference for new products hosted (virtually this year) by the tech giant. That may be because adjustments and additions are still underway for the virtual assistant, but Microsoft explicitly ties the updates to people wanting ways to boost productivity while working at home during the current COVID-19 health crisis.
“With recent events leading to the world’s largest work-from-home shift, we could all use some assistance to stay caught up with work while juggling personal responsibilities,” Cortana corporate vice president Andrew Shuman explained in the announcement of the update. “We’re featuring updates available starting today with Cortana, your personal productivity assistant in Microsoft 365, to make it easier to get time back on your busy schedule and focus on what matters.”