Microsoft is in talks to make Cortana available on iOS and Android.
Cortana is going to differentiate Microsoft from other brands and be its unique value proposition.
Keeping Cortana confined to Windows would provide Microsoft the required competitive advantage.
Taking Cortana cross-platform would allow rapid and better user acceptance.
Microsoft must decide on its goal and then evaluate both the alternatives.
If you are an iPhone or an Android user and you have been feeling intimidated by what Cortana can do better than Siri and Google Now, you don't need to feel that way anymore. According to a latest report, Redmond-based tech giant Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is in active discussions to extend Cortana to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) users.
The news about the discussion comes as a surprise to many. All these years the company was known to keep its highly-competitive offerings to itself. However, lately the thought process seems to have changed under the leadership of Satya Nadella, and the company is doing things that were never expected before. First, Microsoft made the full blown version of Office 365 available on iPad and now it's thinking of taking Cortana cross-platform.
The Windows maker has come a long way in developing Cortana, but she (i.e. Cortana) is still in the beta stage and tech guys at Microsoft are constantly working to improve the capabilities of the offering. Once Cortana is commercially released, I believe she will boost the widespread acceptance of Windows Phone OS (as already understood from the huge consumer interest observed across the world) and help the company gain better share of the smartphone market. And this brings us to the question: Is Microsoft doing the right thing to share its offering? Let's dig deep.
Taking Cortana Cross-Platform: Microsoft Must Choose Carefully
Microsoft is trying to evaluate the alternatives and select the best one. On one hand Satya Nadella needs to think about the competitive edge that Cortana is likely to provide to the Windows devices once she goes commercial, and on the other hand he needs to evaluate the benefits of multi-ecosystem usage that Microsoft can benefit from if he decides to take Cortana cross-platform. There is no doubt that the cross-platform usage of the offering will allow rapid mass adoption of Cortana and add to its growth momentum. However, Microsoft must decide on its goal first.
Choosing to keep Cortana restricted to Windows would mean limited users and thus Microsoft won't be able to fully showcase to the world what Cortana can do for them. But this would also mean competitive advantage for the company. Consumers don't always need to own an offering to know its benefits. Cortana is in the beta stage and already there is so much discussion going on about her. Several of my friends and family members who own a Windows phone are going crazy about Cortana, and this makes me feel the hype regarding the offering is already there and many are eagerly waiting for Cortana's official launch. So, if Microsoft can carefully and patiently develop a virtual assistant better than Siri and Google Now, it stands a good chance to draw consumers towards its devices.
Even industry experts and analysts are of the opinion that someday in the not-so-distant-future, virtual assistants and their capabilities will decide consumer preference for device manufacturers. This is a very strong reason why Apple has kept Siri to itself and Google Now is available to Android alone, and may be Microsoft should follow the same path.
Next, choosing cross-platform availability of Cortana would mean more number of immediate users, which can help to establish the offering as strong and in-demand. Microsoft can then capitalize on this demand just like it did in the case of Office 365 on iPad. Consumers are increasingly syncing the use of their personal computers with their smartphones and tablets. In an age of connected devices, having a personal assistant that is not connected or available to all these devices can be a draw-back.
So, from that point of view also, Microsoft might need to make Cortana available to Apple and Google users. I am using a Windows powered laptop and have an iPhone and an iPad. I would want Cortana to be in all three of the devices so that the offering can give me a better virtual assistant experience. Otherwise, I will be more than happy using Siri, especially now that Apple is looking at launching iOS 8 that will now offer hands-free voice-enabled use of Siri with improved connected-experience between Apple devices.
Will Apple and Google Be Interested In This Integration?
So far we have been discussing only what Microsoft should do. What we also need to consider is whether Apple and Google will want such integration. First of all, Cortana being in the beta stage is only available to developers across the world. So, probably it's a little too soon to decide if Cortana should be made available to iPhone and Android users. We don't even know what she is at the moment and what she can become.
Secondly, industry experts have been very agile in pointing out difficulties for which Apple and Google might not want Cortana. If Cortana is installed on an iPhone, she might not be able to integrate with the device's hardware as well as she could have for a Windows device. This would only mean poor user experience and I am sure that's something that Google won't allow, let alone Apple.
Finally, I have already mentioned that industry experts believe virtual assistants will be a deciding factor for choosing between Apple, Google, Microsoft and others. In such a situation both Apple and Google would like to retain their own virtual assistants and develop them instead of going for a third-party software. Apple has always been very keen on differentiating itself from its competition and it's this value that will stop it from accepting Cortana. Instead, Apple and Google can strike a deal with Microsoft through which they will gain access to Cortana's capabilities and then integrate those into their own offerings.
Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.