Microsoft is bringing Cortana to its Outlook for iOS and Android apps. It’s something we’ve been expecting for almost two years, and it’s arriving initially in iOS with Android to follow in spring 2020. A new “Play My Emails” feature will allow Cortana to read out emails and even calendar invites when you’re driving to work, cooking, or commuting.
You’ll be able to archive or flag emails while you’re listening to them. It will be limited to the US at first, and you’ll need to use headphones to hear emails and a summary of meetings unless you want them blasting our of your phone’s speakers. This new feature is part of some broader changes that Microsoft is making to Cortana, repositioning the assistant as a “personal productivity assistant.”
Microsoft is also introducing a new masculine voice for Cortana. This voice option will appear first in Outlook for iOS, alongside the Play My Emails feature. “Both our voices have also been upgraded to use Neural Text to Speech capabilities, making them sound even more natural thanks to deep neural networks that match the patterns of stress and intonation in spoken language,” explains Andrew Shuman, Microsoft’s head of Cortana.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed earlier this year that the company no longer sees Cortana as a competitor to other digital assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant. Cortana is going to be far more conversational when answering queries by voice or text and more integrated into Office. We’ve seen parts of this through Microsoft’s bot ambitions and Skype integration for Cortana, but Microsoft is being careful with how it integrates Cortana into Office. The company is now repositioning Cortana as a skill that can run anywhere, and Microsoft has also moved the Cortana team out of its AI research division and into its Experiences and Devices team.
Alongside the Outlook for iOS changes, Microsoft is also generating a daily briefing email through Cortana that will include a summary of meetings and important documents. This will be available for Office 365 users in the US in the coming weeks. Cortana will also be able to organize meetings, with a new Scheduler feature that works like how you’d CC an assistant into an email thread.
You can tell Cortana the location, timing, and duration of a meeting or ask it to “find a time for us,” and Cortana will book a room or call and respond via email. Cortana will look at calendars to find free time for everyone and then email participants a few meeting times before working out the best time and sending a calendar invite to everyone.