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Microsoft to Cortana: You’re not going out dressed in iOS or Android, young lady!

Third-party skills and smart speaker incarnations also discontinued

Microsoft has decided to restrict the roles that its AI assistant Cortana is permitted to fill.

A Saturday support update explained that support for third-party Cortana skills will end in September 2020. Cortana’s iOS and Android apps will suffer the same fate in “early 2021”.

Cortana’s incarnation in a Harman Kardon smart speaker will end in January 2021, too.

Microsoft has styled these decisions as “changes to some U.S. consumer-centric features and functionalities with lower usage.”

The company has also pointed out that the changes are far from the end for Cortana, as she lives on in Windows 10 and the mobile version of Outlook and Teams. Surface-branded headphones and earbuds will lose access to the current full Cortana experience, but remain able to access Cortana through Outlook mobile. However in those apps her role is limited to things like arranging meetings, plus reading mail, rather than a full “Oi, virtual person, search the web and tell me stuff I wanna know” experience.

“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking through this transition and understand that these changes may be disruptive to some of our customers,” Microsoft’s post advises, adding “We look forward to continuing to innovate on ways Cortana can help you navigate the modern workplace so you can save time and focus on the things that matter most in your day.”

And that focus on the modern workplace, Microsoft’s term for what you become after buying and imbibing Office 365, signals where Microsoft wants Cortana to go. Out with the chatty generalist, in with a voice interface for frequent tasks.

Microsoft is not the only entity to have trouble with its AI. Samsung’s Bixby is something of a digital non-entity and is rumored to be ripe for radical re-invention or even removal. Google and Amazon’s assistants have become sources of endless privacy concerns, thanks to their inclusion in low-priced smart speakers. And Apple’s Siri continues to delight and confound in equal measure. ®

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