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Microsoft To End Some Cortana Capabilities for U.S. Consumers

Microsoft on Friday announced plans to pull back on some of Cortana's capabilities for U.S. consumers, while also promoting it as more of a personal digital assistant for Microsoft 365 business users.

A few details to that end were described in a support article. It described Cortana's current development direction as aiming more toward an "AI-powered assistant experience in Microsoft 365."

Consumers still will be able to access Cortana via Microsoft 365 mobile apps, such as the Outlook Mobile App and the coming Teams Mobile Apps. However, possibly they'd need a Microsoft 365 subscription, which typically just gets purchased by organizations. This point wasn't really clarified in the support article.

The support article suggested that Cortana in the Windows 10 Home edition for consumers would continue, pointing to a new chat-based scheduling experience that was described back in May.

Consumer Cortana End-of-Support Dates
The Cortana end-of-support milestones for U.S. consumers were described as follows:

  • Sept. 7: Support for "all third-party Cortana skills" will end.
  • Early 2021: Support for mobile Cortana apps on Android and iOS will end.
  • Jan. 2021: Support for the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker will end.
  • Sometime in 2021: Microsoft Surface Headphones (first version) will lose support for "the previous version of Cortana."

A Cortana "skill" is a set of developer tools describing a task that Cortana can perform, according to this "Cortana Skills Kit" document. Application developers typically would use the Cortana Skills Kit to support their software products interfacing with Cortana, but Microsoft will be ending such "third-party" (non-Microsoft) development efforts, it seems, at least in the U.S. market.

While dedicated mobile apps support for Cortana will end next year, it'll still be possible to use Cortana with the Outlook Mobile App to manage calendar items, e-mails and join meetings, the support article indicated. In addition, it'll be possible to access Cortana in the coming Microsoft Teams mobile applications. Microsoft is planning to deliver Cortana in the Teams mobile app for Android and iOS devices sometime this year for U.S. Microsoft 365 Enterprise users, per an earlier Microsoft announcement.

Microsoft claimed that removing Cortana support from the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker will be eased by plans to enable Bluetooth connections with the speaker. The Bluetooth addition will happen via a device firmware update that's expected to arrive in "early 2021."

"After the [firmware] update is installed, your Invoke will perform like other Bluetooth speakers -- you will be able to pair it with your phone or other audio source and stream music to it," Microsoft explained in a FAQ document. "But Cortana and other Wi-Fi functions will no longer be available."

Surface Headphones and Surface Earbuds will still be able to use Cortana via the Outlook Mobile App, Microsoft indicated.

Cortana's Microsoft 365 Transition
Microsoft had earlier talked about Cortana transitioning into a Microsoft 365 solution back in February. At that time, Microsoft described some regional differences in its use, and indicated that the use of a Microsoft Account would be required with Cortana. Additionally, Microsoft had forecast the ending of third-party skills support for consumers, including ending support for connected home and music scenarios.

A ZDNet article by veteran Microsoft journalist Mary Jo Foley suggested that Microsoft hadn't really gotten a good developer response on Cortana skills development. She also indicated that users can "expect Cortana to be part of Microsoft's Project Cortex knowledge management service, due this fall."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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