There is a war of words going on right now, but it’s not political or even personal. It’s digitial. While Google had voice assisted functionality from very early on, Apple’s introduction of Siri into the mobile market arguably pushed voice in a more pronounced way, at least to the general public. While Google’s own assistant doesn’t have a name per se, it is nonetheless an integral part of the Google Now experience and features quick response times and a less “synthesized” voice. Microsoft, too, has its own assistant named Cortana, taken from its cash-cow Halo videogame series.
Recently Cortana was released to the Google Play store and with it Microsoft’s move to migrate millions. Or at least attempt to. This past weekend however, it updated the app and removed what some might consider to be a key feature: “Hey Cortana” hotword support. While the feature was essentially limited to a shout out on either a device’s home screen or within the actual Cortana app itself, support for it has been removed entirely for those in the USA.
What gives (and was taken)?
While Microsoft has yet to state what prompted the sudden about face, those looking for answers on the removal decision may be able to get an idea from posts on reddit in response to the news. User shamrock013 writes:
Good. Using “Hey Cortana” broke the microphone across the whole OS. It barely worked during phone calls. It broke the “OK Google” hotkey. To top it off, the feature barely worked to begin with, so it was half-baked from the start.
Get your crap together, Microsoft.
Another user, bfodder, added:
Oh shit, I couldn’t even use the microphone by tapping on it on the Google Now widget at the top of the home screen. Now it works. And now I know why.
Finally, anthonyvardiz posted:
That explains why I couldn’t “Okay, Google” on my Nexus 6P. Just tried it and it works again!
Based on these responses, it would seem that hotword detection created interference with the normal functioning of a user’s microphone. It is currently unknown as to just how prevalent this issue was, or what devices may have been affected – though clearly the Nexus 6P was one of them. It is also unknown as to the status of “Hey Cortana” on Cyanogenmod builds, which have OS-wide integrated hotword detection.
The question now is if or when Microsoft plans to restore the feature to its fledgling Android app. Part of the draw of virtual assistants is the ability to make use of them effortlessly. By requiring manual triggering of Cortana, the app has arguably lost some of the appeal it might have had, or at least some feature parity with Google Now.
Does it even matter?
Perhaps the larger issue is if hotword removal matters at all. While some love and live by it, others feel enabling the feature drains battery life due to the “always listening” approach. It is similar to criticism raised about LG’s now-heavily cloned “Tap to Wake” display functionality wherein the digitizer must always remain on so as to detect tap input. As for how much effect on battery life this actually has, that’s a different story.
Reviews that have already been posted on the Play Store indicate that yes, this is a big problem. Pedro Ramos wrote:
Hey Cortana?? C’mon Microsoft…stop screwing with us…I really love Cortana. Unless ur doing it so that pc’s Cortana doesn’t get confused then I forgive you.
Chad White’s review goes even further however:
Uninstall Without Hey Cortana there’s no reason to use this app over Google Now why do I have to actually open the app when I could just: “Ok Google, uninstall Cortana” First Microsoft screws up with Windows, then they kept messing up the Skype app for a while, let’s see if they actually listen the the people for once the make at least one good product this year.
The other issue at large is how many Android users want Cortana in the first place. As of right now, the Play Store data lists Cortana installs between 100,000-500,000. While there are other ways to get it (such as an APK file), suffice to say the app has apparently yet to hit a multi-million milestone, or even the one million mark.
Those who want a more seamless Windows 10 experience will no doubt be interested in using Cortana, but it remains to be seen how many Android users will be interested in having a second voice assistant running on their phone, especially since many are probably unsure of how to disable Google Now’s listening in the first place.
There are a variety of ways to take in this news. Some might be angered and perhaps uninstall the app. Some might be pleased Microsoft has suffered an apparent setback of sorts. Some might not care at all. Whatever you are thinking, however, we want to hear it.
Has Cortana become less relevant without the hotword detection or are you still inclined to use it? Did you even know Cortana was available for Android to begin with prior to reading this story? Leave your comments below and share your thoughts for all to see!