Tag Archives: siri

Apple’s new iPhone 6S ads use Jamie Foxx to sell Siri

And Steph Curry to show off the camera

Apple is borrowing the services of celebrities as it continues its recent onslaught of ads. The company uploaded three new commercials to its YouTube channel over the weekend, featuring movie actor Jamie Foxx, basketball star Steph Curry, and a host of no-name extras to demonstrate the power of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

Two of the new ads, both featuring Jamie Foxx, run just 15 seconds long, and use the actor to demonstrate the hands-free use of Siri. In one, Foxx teases Siri after it says he sounds attractive, suggesting that Apple’s personal assistant has a crush on him. In the other, he asks it to flip a coin, using the results to decide on “a sci-fi western” as his next movie project. Like its recent Watch ads, the company’s new commercials are short — but where those clips focused on new things the Watch allowed wearers to do, the new ads rely more on Foxx’s charisma to sell minor features of a personal assistant that all iPhone users will already be familiar with.

The third ad uploaded, on the other hand, specifically calls out new additions to Apple’s latest round of smartphones. The one-minute commercial focuses on the camera and uses the same phrasing as previous ads in the series, arguing that “not much has changed, except…” before reeling off a laundry list of changes. Specifically called out are the iPhone’s new moving photos, the ability to share snaps quickly, and its new 4K video shooting options. NBA MVP Steph Curry makes an appearance to demonstrate the new video upgrades, throwing up a three-pointer before turning to the camera, looking away like a badass as the ball sails through the net.

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French hackers intercept Siri and Google Now to control phones

Researchers claim to have intercepted the digital assistants to control the iPhone and Android devices, broadcasting silent commands from 16 feet away

French researchers claim to have remotely accessed iOS and Android digital assistants and silently delivered commands by using headphones with inbuilt microphones as antennas.

The team from the French government’s Network and Information Security Agency (ANSSI) claim to have discovered “a new silent remote voice command injection technique”, meaning they were able to intercept Siri and Google Now via radio from up to 16 feet away.

An Android device or iPhone with a pair of headphones containing an inbuilt microphone – such as Apple’s standard earbud model – plugged in effectively turns the cord into an antenna, converting electromagnetic waves into electrical signals the phone perceives to be audio commands, without actually speaking a word.

In theory, this means the digital assistants could be hijacked into sending texts or emails, making searches or calls or direct the handset to malicious websites, though the researchers required an amplifier, laptop, antenna and Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) radio.

“The possibility of inducing parasitic signals on the audio front-end of voice-command-capable devices could raise critical security impacts,” researchers José Lopes Esteves and Chaouki Kasmi wrote, as spotted by Wired.

Last month a hacker claimed to have discovered a 30-second method ofinfiltrating a locked iPhone via Siri, which Apple fixed with the updated software iOS 9.0.1.

How to protect yourself

  • Attacks like this are extremely improbable, but in theory could happen. The researchers have suggested the companies improve the shield on their headphone cords, or introduce personalised phrases to wake digital assistants.
  • If you’re really worried, you could disable voice activation or turn the digital assisant on your phone off.
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Siri drops new hints ahead of Apple’s iPhone 6s event

Apple’s personal assistant has new answers when you ask for clues about its iPhone event – although they are not particularly helpful

When Apple first confirmed the date of the event at which it will unveil its latest iPhones, its invitation sent out to journalists contained the cryptic phrase “Hey Siri, give us a hint”.

The event, to be held in San Francisco at 6pm UK time on Wednesday September 9, is expected to be one of the biggest days in Apple’s history.

Not only is it likely to unveil new iPhones, the 6s and 6s Plus, but a powerful new model of the Apple TV is also widely expected. The inclusion of Siri in the invitation be a nod to the Apple TV, which is expected to closely incorporate the personal assistant software.

Apple's September 9 media invitationApple’s September 9 media invitation  Photo: Apple

However, asking Siri on the iPhone to give a hint yielded very little in the way of answers.

Its responses ranged from the curious “the only hint I can give you is a hint of lime” to the downright unhelpful “Look deep within yourself and you will find the answer”.

Now, just over a day before the event has started, asking Siri for a hint yields new answers.

For those looking for answers, you’re probably not going to find them. They range from “OK, I just sent it to you via synthetic telepathy” to “OK. It’s smaller than a Grafalian battle cruiser and bigger than a mote in a Zoltaxian’s eye”.

“Grafalian” and “Zoltaxian” don’t appear to be a reference to anything in particular – although they have cropped up in Siri before.

In another response, Siri claims to have missed the rehearsal for Wednesday’s keynote because it was reminding users to “call their mum” (this appears to be a UK-only answer).

And in another, it responds with binary code “010001110110111101110100”.

If you’re wondering, that’s binary for “Got”.

For those of you that aren’t finding Siri’s answers particularly helpful, here’s everything to expect from Apple’s big event on Wednesday.

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Come September, Apple TV Will Outshine the iPhone

About Apple’s September event…

Apple’s annual September media event is an oxymoron — it’s become almost entirely predictable. One year it introduces a major new iPhone redesign and the next it offers incremental iPhone improvements. And make no mistake about it, despite last year’s Apple Watch debut, at the core of the September event is the critically important iPhone.

To illustrate: In 2011, Apple introduced the incrementally improved iPhone 4s, which in turn introduced Siri as its cool new feature. In 2012, Apple introduced the redesigned iPhone 5. In 2013, came the iPhone 5s, which introduced Touch ID, alongside the polycarbonate iPhone 5c and a redesigned iOS 7. In 2014, we saw the redesigned iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which delivered the larger screens users were pining for, plus a bunch of little improvements here and there.

Now, in 2015, the September event likely will introduce an iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. The obvious question is, what will be the special new featureto make it event-worthy?

Answer: There won’t be one. There will be several smaller improvements this year.

Little Things

You can expect to see an iPhone 6s and 6s Plus with a faster A9 processor, maybe as much as 2 GB of memory, and an improved iSight camera — possibly at 12 megapixels, possibly capable of shooting at a 4K resolution. It possibly will have optical image stabilization in the 6s model, and a better front-facing FaceTime camera with flash, so the selfie addicts can produce even better photos for social media sharing. Who’s yawning here?

But wait, there’s more: Force Touch. Apple introduced Force Touch in the Apple Watch and added it to the latest MacBooks. The feature is a new user interface input that lets you press harder on a screen to create a new action in software.

Right now, Force Touch is a technology innovation that’s looking for an important reason to exist. It’s like Siri from the early days — barely useful. Yet it’s full of potential. The next generation of apps could use Force Touch to reveal a whole new set of ways reveal new features.

Does that sound vague? Of course it is. Pushing harder to fast-forward a movie faster is handy but hardly important. Diving deeper into a calendar day? My fist pump was just interrupted by a yawn.

So, Force Touch. Important? Yes. Interesting? Barely. A technical achievement on a relatively large iPhone screen? Sure.

Extra Seating? What For?

So, it’s unlikely that Apple will blow anyone’s mind with its next iPhone update. So what’s so interesting about the upcoming event that could justify Apple’s move to a much larger venue this year?

Previously, Apple held media events at the Yerba Buena Center or Flint Center, which have seating capacities around 1,400 and 2,400 respectively. The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, which is where the Sept. 9 event will take place, seats 7,000.

That’s a big leap in capacity.

At the same time, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium has been locked down (with security personal) for an extended period of time leading up to this event, which seems odd if all Apple is doing inside is putting together some hands-on display areas and hanging up some huge decorative posters, even though this is a new venue.

All of this is just incremental evidence that supports the hope that something important might be happening this year.

Apple TV’s Time to Shine?

It seems doubtful that Apple will reveal a new Apple Watch — but it has been a year, so maybe. More likely, though, Apple finally will reveal a new Apple TV. How can it not? Personally, I’ve been hoping for new Apple TV hardware for years, but rumors say it’s been delayed while Apple tries to nail down a new streaming media subscription service with television content producers and owners.

The rumors leading up to the September event have been weaker this year than in years past, with many of them pointing toward the more obvious likelihoods rather than tangible evidence. There’s one rumor that Siri will be a key element in the new Apple TV UI. Apple’s tease in the invitation letter to journalists — “Hey Siri, give us a hint” — seems to bear that out.

If you want to play with Siri, by the way, go ahead and ask for a hint. She has several funny answers for you.

As for me, I’m very excited to see what sort of new Apple TV will be revealed Sept. 9. Actual rumors based on snippets of fact rather than smart supposition are hard to come by, but it seems obvious that the new Apple TV will be a big leap forward. Here’s a rundown of my expectations and hopes:

  • Siri for Remote Control. The Amazon Fire TV uses a remote control that lets you search by voice, which I use all the time — and it works pretty well when you’re searching for content to watch in Amazon’s universe. Apple ought to be able to deliver a similar Siri-based feature.
  • New Touch-Based Remote Control. Along with using your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch to control your Apple TV, you’ll have the option of a much more user-friendly and versatile remote control that uses touch — maybe even Force Touch — rumors suggest.
  • New Subscription TV Service. Forget about it. It’s pretty much unnecessary these days anyway, but persistent rumors suggest that traditional TV execs are nowhere near agreeing to any sort of Apple terms of service. If it ever comes, consider it a pleasant surprise visit from an old friend — maybe life-changing but probably not.
  • New Apple TV App Store. The major missing Apple app ecosystem is an App Store for the Apple TV. It’s been long-rumored, long-desired. Apple likely will announce it.
  • A Game System. If you’ve got an App Store, games are an obvious addition. With Apple’s sweet graphics capabilities, it has the chance to offer a great casual gaming experience. Throw in some decent physical controllers, and wow, Apple could become an interesting force in the living room.
  • A HomeKit Hub. With Siri voice control, the next Apple TV promises to become a compelling hub for home automation, which brings up another potential option — a WiFi hub that’s not an Apple TV at all. Either way, I don’t exactly expect, but I am hoping for a compelling demonstration of how we can use Siri with home automation products, alongside our iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches.
  • Apple Music Tie-In. Seems obvious, of course, but it would be quite interesting to see a Siri-capable Apple Music tie-in… something like, “Hey Siri, play Sam Hunt’s ‘House Party…’ oh, and Siri, crank it up loud.”

Playing Catch-Up?

Apple’s next Apple TV has some catching up to do. The Amazon Fire TV, for example, has a decent voice search. Gaming controllers are available so owners can play games they buy from Amazon’s Appstore.

Sure, Amazon’s ecosystem reach with developers is stunted, compared to Apple’s, but Amazon is doing it reasonably well — given that the app gaming industry is messed up with freemium games and annoying business models.

When you add in the Amazon Echo, which can hear you from across the room, it becomes harder and harder to imagine that Apple doesn’t have some similar capabilities ready to release through an Apple TV or a new type of home hub.

Apple fans are ready for this sort of stuff, and the September event is begging for something jaw-dropping cool. In lieu of a special content subscription streaming TV service, I think Apple has two obvious choices: 1) reveal how John Snow is going to return to Game of Thrones, or 2) wow the sh*t out of us with HomeKit, apps, games, and the promise of using the Apple TV as a real home hub.

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Facebook’s Siri rival ‘M’ is powered by actual humans

Facebook has unveiled its own personal assistant, a rival to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana with one major difference.

“M”, as the assistant is called, is not only powered by artificial intelligence software that responds to your queries. It is also controlled by actual people.

Facebook has hired a workforce of “M trainers”, which are essentially customer service representatives who respond to questions and requests that are entered into M.

This means that while M will be able to use artificial intelligence software to respond to simple queries such as “What is seven multiplied by 12?”, it will be able to use humans to respond to more complicated requests.

Apple, Google and Microsoft are all competing to develop smartphone-based personal assistants. With voice commands possibly easier than searching on mobile devices, advocates of digital assistants believe they could one day be the new way that consumers look up information.

How Facebook M worksHow Facebook M works  Photo: Facebook

David Marcus, Facebook’s messaging head, announced M on his Facebook page.

“It’s powered by artificial intelligence that’s trained and supervised by people,” Marcus said. “Unlike other AI-based services in the market, M can actually complete tasks on your behalf. It can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more.”

M is located on Facebook’s Messenger app rather than on its main app or website. It was reported last month that the social network was developing a Siri rival codenamed Moneypenny.

The software is currently being tested in San Francisco but will be slowly rolled out to more users. Marcus told Wired that the company may have to hire thousands of M trainers to keep up with demand. The company hopes that the software will be able to “learn” the patterns of the human assistants, meaning it is capable of responding to more complicated queries.

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Hey, Siri – Get Out Your Steno Pad

If you’re allergic to long-winded voice mails, Siri soon may be able to type them for you instead. Reading transcripts of voice mail messages can be a productivity booster. “It’s quicker,” noted mobile device analyst Michael Morgan. “If you have 16 voice mails, instead of opening up each one and listening to them, you can scan a transcript of them and decide which are important and which are not.”

Apple is working on a service that will enlist Siri to transcribe voice mail messages for iPhone users, Business Insider reported Monday.

Apple employees reportedly are testing the service in preparation for a 2016 rollout, possibly as a new feature in iOS 10.

When a call is placed to a phone that has iCloud Voicemail enabled and you don’t answer it, Siri will pick it up for you. Depending on who the caller is, Siri can provide information about where you are and why you can’t answer the call, according to the report. If your caller leaves a voice message, Siri will notify you and send you a transcription.

“This is a natural evolution for Siri,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

“A Siri transcription service would be a welcome feature for Apple users, since many times they don’t have the ability or time to retrieve voice mails,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They could now get these transcribed voicemail messages in their email inbox — very handy, and a great use for Siri within iOS.”

Productivity Booster

A Siri transcription service could be beneficial to Apple’s ecosystem, noted Ross Rubin, principal analyst with Reticle Research.

“It contributes to the overall user experience of using the iPhone, and creates consistency of the user experience across carriers who may have different voice mail systems,” he told TechNewsWorld.

It also could be a way for Apple to make some extra cash.

“It provides another reason for consumers to sign up for iCloud, which provides revenue opportunities for Apple,” Rubin said.

Why transcribe voice mail messages?

“A lot of people like to leave voice mail, but very few people like to listen to it,” said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

Reading transcripts of voice mail messages can be a productivity booster.

“It’s quicker,” noted Michael Morgan, an independent mobile devices analyst.

“If you have 16 voice mails, instead of opening up each one and listening to them, you can scan a transcript of them and decide which are important and which are not,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It definitely becomes more efficient.”

Transcripts also can be more convenient in some scenarios, suggested Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy.

“It’s a nice option or alternative to voice mail in noisy locations, and when people leave you long voice mails,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Generation Gap

Siri transcription also could bridge the generation gap among smartphone users.

“People like Millennials — who don’t like the phone for voice functions — will gravitate toward this,” Moorhead said.

“It helps bridge the generation gap between people who like to communicate via voice mail and people who like to communicate via text,” Reticle’s Rubin pointed out.

A number of communication service providers currently offer voice mail transcription to their users, so Apple will be joining the party late.

“Apple, in a lot of things, isn’t necessarily first,” Moorhead said. “They get the technology to a point where people can actually use it. That’s their play here.” Apple may have an opportunity to do just that given the experience of some users of the existing transcription services.

“None of these transcription programs are perfect,” Creative Strategies’ Bajarin said, “but when I get transcribed voice messages from my Xfinity service, I have no trouble understanding what is said even if it has a few words wrong.”

Vonage has had voice transcription for years.

“The transcription is good enough,” Endpoint’s Kay told TechNewsWorld. “Not every word is correct, but usually you can understand what’s happening.”

Less Than Perfect

Google Voice also supports transcription.

“It’s helpful to get notification of voice mail in your email in-box, but the transcriptions haven’t been of a quality where one can reliably ascertain what the voice mail is,” noted Reticle’s Rubin.

“Google Voice includes the voice mail as a sound attachment, so you usually have to play the sound file in order to understand what the voice mail said,” he added.

AT&T also provides transcripts.

“I wouldn’t call it an amazing transcription experience, but seven time out of 10, I can tell what the message is about and whether it’s pertinent for me to bother with,” said Morgan. “If Siri can beat that, it would be an improvement over what a major operator is offering.”

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The 35 best Siri answers on the Apple Watch

Siri, Apple’s philosophically downbeat digital assistant, has a host of amusing responses for Apple Watch owners

Apple’s digital assistant Siri has gained a reputation for its offhand, whimsical responses to a variety of questions since its introduction to the iPhone 4s in 2011.

Siri for Apple Watch has been redesigned with a plethora of new answers to burning queries. Here are some of the best.

Are you the Dick Tracy watch?

Siri doesn’t like to be compared to other famous watches, but isn’t above making a wry joke. US comic book character Dick Tracy was touting a two-way wrist radio in 1952, predating the Apple Watch by more than 60 years.

Are you a smart watch?

Siri doesn’t like to feel its intelligence is being insulted, and asking if it’s a smartwatch will generate a couple of catty replies.

Why do you vibrate?

Asking Siri why it vibrates sparks some mildly bizarre answers, from an explanation of binary code to some frankly unlikely admissions of hidden musical prowess.

What’s the best watch?

Asking what the best watch is is guaranteed to touch a nerve.

Tell me a joke.

Siri’s sense of humour is poor at best, once it can be coaxed into actually replying.

Can you stop time?

Siri is at its best when it get strangely philosophical, best demonstrated when asking it if it can stop time. This triggers an interesting response concerning Eliza and HAL, widely thought to be Siri’s natural precursors. Eliza was a natural language processor from 1965 which wrote simple psychotherapist-style answers to basic questions, while HAL is the famously malevolent operating system featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Apple has a fond relationship with 2001, the term iPod was famously inspired by the film’s miniature EVA Pod spaceship.

Which watch band should I wear?

Siri isn’t much help when it comes to stylish watchband choices either.

Which watch face do you like?

Nor is it much use when it’s asked which of the watch faces is it’s favourite. Why it chose to trot out Tyra Banks’ clumsy portmanteau ‘smizing’ (smiling with your eyes), no one knows.

What is time?

Another deep question, another sassy answer. The time slippin’ into the future line is an allusion to the Steve Miller band hit Fly Like an Eagle, while the ‘Time is too slow’ diatribe is a quote from American author Henry van Dyke.

Draw me something.

Siri’s lack of hands make it a terrible artist, and pushing it soon nudges it into rudeness.

Can I send you an emoji?

Asking permission to send an emoji also causes the digital assistant to descend into snark. It really doesn’t like the one with the tongue though.

Can I send you my heartbeat?

One of the more bizarre functions of the Apple Watch is the ability to send fellow Watch owners your heartbeat. Siri is having none of it.

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Tech Q&A: Car insurance pitfalls, booking flights, teaching Siri and more

Insurance program lets hackers into your car

Q. I’m thinking about joining my car insurance company’s program that tracks my driving habits in exchange for lower premiums. Are there any pitfalls I should know about?

A. Insurance companies track your driving with a gadget that plugs into your car’s onboard diagnostics port and wirelessly sends information about speed, braking and other driving stats back to the company. Unfortunately, a security researcher found that the wireless signal isn’t encrypted, meaning anyone could snag your information out of the air. Until insurance companies get serious about security, I would steer clear. Click here to learn more about this danger and how it might even let hackers take control of your car.

Best day to buy airline tickets online

Q. Last year, I heard you say on The Kim Komando Show that Tuesday was the best day to find the cheapest airfare online. Is this still true?

A. It used to be Tuesday. But now, tickets purchased on the weekend are an average of 5 percent cheaper than similar tickets purchased during the week. A recent Wall Street Journal study shows you can save an average of $60 by purchasing tickets on Sundays instead of Tuesdays. The study also showed a significant increase of ticket prices on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. So, what should you do? If you see one airline offering a deal on Monday, buy your tickets on Tuesday. If there are no deals going on, buy on the weekend. Of course, that’s only one piece of the cheap airline ticket puzzle. Click here to know what day to fly, how early to buy and the best sites to use to purchase your tickets.

Teaching Siri

Q. Siri doesn’t understand my wonderful girlfriend’s name. How can I teach Siri? I just want to tell my iPhone to call her like I see happens so easily in Apple’s commercials.

A. When entering a name into your contacts, Siri will repeat the name back to you. If she pronounces the contact name wrong, just correct her, “That’s not how you say that.” Siri will then ask you how to pronounce the first name. Say your girlfriend’s first name. Siri will give you three choices with different pronunciations of the name. Simply pick the one that sounds best. Repeat the process for her last name. If that doesn’t work, I have another idea. Click here to tell Siri who is your girlfriend and while you’re at it, find out when Siri thinks the world will end.

Keep your cell number private

Q. I’m trying to sell my bed frame and couch before I move, and I was going to put them up on Craigslist and a few other classified sites. Are there any privacy concerns I should be aware of?

A. You don’t ever want to post your real phone number on Craigslist or anywhere else on the Internet. It’s too easy for someone to get your name and more, or start calling you nonstop. Instead, get a temporary number through a site like Babb.ly or apps like Burner or Hushed. That will keep your number safe.Click here for more cellphone privacy tips, from texting to separating your home and business life. Also, as a rule when selling on Craigslist, only meet with the buyer in public and deal only in cash.

Winter photo tricks

Q. I want to take photos of the incredible snow we have been getting. Do you have any quick tips a techno-wannabe can use?

A. One way to class up any picture is a vignette. That’s the name for that darkening around the edges of some photos. It creates a stopping point for the eye and directs it back to the important parts of a photo. A lot of editors, like thePixlr, have a vignette filter. Takes about 10 seconds. A gorgeous winter scene can be spectacular, but you can take it a different direction by shrinking it. Tilt-shift photography strategically blurs a photo to create fake depth of field. It gives you the illusion that the snow-covered forest or house is super small. Click here to learn how to do this editing trick, work with HDR photos and take gorgeous photos into the sun.

Bonus Tip:

Q. What was the name of app you told a caller about on your national radio show? He kept going over his data limits and you had a great solution.

A. Unfortunately, most data plans cost quite a bit and don’t get you as much data as you would hope for. Onavo Extend can help you get up to five times more data out of your current mobile plan, and helps keep you under your limit. It stays on in the background and routes your Internet activity through its own servers so it can compress the data. The app also “balances image quality and data savings” by not downloading photos on a webpage that you won’t scroll down to see. You would be surprised what little things can save you big data.Click here to download it for both iOS and Android. By the way, in case you miss the show again (shame on you!), you can watch my previous shows and download the podcasts. Click here to get your free 15-day trial to Kim’s Club.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.

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We’ve heard about Siri, we’ve heard about Google Now, but Microsoft? Microsoft has… “Cortana”

Summary: Microsoft is working on its ‘Cortana’ rival to Apple’s Siri and Google Now, which will be integrated into all flavors of Windows in the future.

Back in June, screen shots of an early Windows Phone operating system build leaked (via a Lumia phone allegedly purchased on eBay). At that time, next-to-no attention was paid to an app, listed as “zCortana,” that was on the phone.


But that Cortana app (with the “z” indicating it was a test build) is central to what Microsoft is doing to compete with Apple’s Siri and Google Now. And Cortana is back in the news this week withpassing mentions by those tracking what’s happening with Windows Phone as it moves toward the “Blue” release in the early part of 2014.

Cortana takes its codename from Cortana, an artifically intelligent character in Microsoft’s Halo series who can learn and adapt.

Cortana, Microsoft’s assistant technology, likewise will be able to learn and adapt, relying on machine-learning technology and the“Satori” knowledge repository powering Bing.

Cortana will be more than just an app that lets users interact with their phones more naturally using voice commands. Cortana is core to the makeover of the entire “shell” — the core services and experience — of the future versions of Windows Phone, Windows and the Xbox One operating systems, from what I’ve heard from my contacts. 

In Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s strategy memo from July about Microsoft’s reorg, there were hints about Cortana. Ballmer mentioned that Microsoft will be working, going forward, on “a family of devices powered by a service-enabled shell.”

That “shell” is more than just the Metro/Modern/tiled interface. Ballmer continued:

“Our UI will be deeply personalized, based on the advanced, almost magical, intelligence in our cloud that learns more and more over time about people and the world. Our shell will natively support all of our essential services, and will be great at responding seamlessly to what people ask for, and even anticipating what they need before they ask for it.”

The coming shell won’t simply surface information stored on users’ phones, PCs and consoles like a search engine can do today. It also will “broker information among our services to bring them together on our devices in ways that will enable richer and deeper app experiences,” Ballmer said in his memo. (That “brokering” is handled by Bing’s Satori, which intelligently interconnects entities, i.e., information about people, places and things.)

Microsoft execs — especially Ballmer — have been talking up Microsoft’s plans to launch a new kind of personal assitant technology since 2011. At that time, Ballmer was touting publicly the idea that users would be able to tell their PCs to “print my boarding pass on Southwest” and have their systems automatically jump into action. The magic behind the scenes would be a combination of Microsoft Bing, Tellme speech technology and some natural-language-plus-social-graph concoction. (Microsoft moved its speech team into its Online Services unit, seemingly to facilitate work with the Bing team, at the very end of 2011.)

But other Microsoft execs said that this kind of assistant would be unlikely to appear until somewhere between 2014 and 2016. Earlier this summer, Bing officials told CNET that Microsoft had decided towait until it had something revolutionary, instead of evolutionary, to debut this kind of new assistant technology.

Cortana is yet another reason why Microsoft is unlikely to sell off Bing. Bing is more than a Web search engine; it’s also the indexing and graphing technology that will be powering Microsoft’s operating systems, too.

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