Microsoft Adds Cortana to Outlook on Android, Tightens Google and Zoom Connections
Android device users can now get the Cortana voice assistant to read their emails as part of the latest spate of updates Microsoft is making to its enterprise services. After a major revamp of its Teams service, the tech giant is now finding ways to build connections to rival meeting platforms like Google and Zoom.
Microsoft has been especially busy with its business-focused features this year, expanding the number of ways artificial intelligence, especially the Cortana voice assistant, can enhance user experience. For the latest round of updates, that means getting Cortana to read emails aloud on Android smartphones. Microsoft first added Play My Emails in Outlook to iOS in November, followed by meeting management May, but Android device owners have access to both facets. The feature integrates Cortana, which is no longer an independent app, into Outlook inboxes. The AI responds to voice commands to read emails and compose responses. It’s more than just reading aloud. Cortana can determine 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 Android expansion goes hand-in-hand with other Outlook updates for the platform, including the ability to scan emails and files you may need for a meeting and including them in the details of the event on your calendar.
Microsoft’s rapid-fire release of new and updated features aimed at business users are often mixed with highlights of previous releases. It may be simply that Microsoft sees the updates as part of a bigger ecosystem that encompasses earlier announcements, and therefore, the articles are additive. Parsing the almost daily posts for what’s actually new, however, one gets the impression that the COVID-19 health crisis may have thrown the company’s schedule of updates out of whack. According to Microsoft, the point of all of the changes are to “help you get back more control of your day, spend less time preparing for meetings, protect your personal time, and organize your calendar to stay balanced.”
The ecosystem idea makes even more sense after the recent big updates to Microsoft’s Teams call and chat platform. Teams will roll out the new features over the next several months, including Together Mode, which uses AI to make everyone in a virtual meeting seem to be in the same virtual space, live speaker attribution, and caption translation. But, while Microsoft may want people just to use its platforms, the latest update doesn’t ignore the fact that other meeting services exist. That’s why Android Outlook users can now get into Webex, and Zoom video calls with one click. In this case, Android is actually ahead of iOS in gaining a new feature.
Though counter-intuitive, streamlining access to rival platforms serves Microsoft’s larger goals of getting people and businesses to spend more time with at least some of its services. No doubt, it will continue to work on enticing companies to use Teams as well as Outlook eventually. That almost certainly means a bigger role for AI and Cortana, where it is well ahead of most other platforms. Zoom, though hugely popular right now, seems uninterested in the potential of voice assistants. The dedicated Zoom screen for home offices it debuted this week offers no voice assistant controls at all, despite its sophistication in other respects.