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October 29, 2019
Samsung Embraces Intel Project Athena Vision

October 22, 2019
Nvidia EGX Brings GPU Powered AI and 5G to the Edge

October 15, 2019
Poly Extends Collaboration Options

October 8, 2019
Arm Extends Reach in IoT

October 1, 2019
A 5G Status Report

September 24, 2019
Revised Galaxy Fold Adds New Twist to Fall Phone-a-Palooza

September 3, 2019
Huddle Rooms and Videoconferencing Reshaping Modern Work Environments

August 27, 2019
VMware Paints Multi-Faceted Picture of Computing Future

August 20, 2019
Server Chips Now Leading Semiconductor Innovations

August 13, 2019
Samsung and Microsoft Partnership Highlights Blended Device World

August 6, 2019
IBM Leveraging Red Hat for Hybrid Multi Cloud Strategy

July 30, 2019
T-Mobile, Sprint and Dish: It’s All about 5G

July 23, 2019
The Contradictory State of AI

July 16, 2019
Changes to Arm Licensing Model Add Flexibility for IoT

July 9, 2019
Intel Highlights Chiplet Advances

July 2, 2019
Ray Tracing Momentum Builds with Nvidia Launch

June 25, 2019
AT&T Shape Event Highlights 5G Promise and Perils

June 18, 2019
HPE and Google Cloud Expand Hybrid Options

June 11, 2019
AMD's Gamble Now Paying Off

June 4, 2019
Apple Blurs Lines Across Devices

May 21, 2019
Citrix Advances the Intelligent Workspace

May 14, 2019
Next Major Step in AI: On-Device Google Assistant

May 7, 2019
Microsoft Bot Frameworks Enable Custom Voice Assistants

May 1, 2019
Dell Technologies Pushes Toward Hybrid Cloud

April 23, 2019
Intel and Nvidia Partner to Drive Mobile PC Gaming

April 16, 2019
Samsung Galaxy Fold Unfolds the Future

April 9, 2019
Google Embraces Multi-Cloud Strategy with Anthos

April 8, 2019
Intel Helps Drive Data Center Advancements

April 2, 2019
Gaming Content Ecosystem Drives More Usage

March 26, 2019
PCs and Smartphones Duke it Out for Gaming Champion

March 19, 2019
PCs and Smartphones Duke it Out for Gaming Champion

March 12, 2019
Proposed Nvidia Purchase and CXL Standard Point to Data Center Evolution

March 5, 2019
Tech Standards Still Making Slow but Steady Progress with USB4 and WebAuthn

February 26, 2019
Second Gen HoloLens Provides Insights into Edge Computing Models

February 19, 2019
IBM’s Watson Anywhere Highlights Reality of a Multi-Cloud World

February 12, 2019
Extending Digital Personas Across Devices

February 5, 2019
Could Embedded 5G/LTE Kill WiFi?

January 29, 2019
Successful IT Projects More Dependent on Culture Than Technology

January 22, 2019
XR Gaming Market Remains Challenging

January 15, 2019
The Voice Assistant War: What If Nobody Wins?

January 8, 2019
Big CES Announcements are TVs and PCs

January 2, 2019
Top Tech Predictions for 2019

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TECHnalysis Research Blog

November 5, 2019
Microsoft Cortana Pivot Highlights Evolving Role of Voice-Based Computing

By Bob O'Donnell

Ever since the debut of multiple voice-based digital assistants—including Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana among others—there have been questions about how many the market could realistically support and what specific role these AI-powered tools could play.

As time has passed, it’s become clear that Alexa and Google Assistant have become the dominant forces in the “general” assistant market—where you basically can ask a wide variety of different questions—with Siri continuing to remain an important, but much less influential player. Microsoft’s Cortana, on the other hand (and Samsung’s Bixby, among others) has faded from prominence, primarily because of its initial positioning as a PC-focused assistant. Despite some interesting potential, it turns out that not many people are interested in interacting with personal assistants on PCs—it’s much more natural and convenient on smartphones and other types of mobile devices, and it’s more critical on devices that don’t have any screens.

Despite these setbacks, Microsoft clearly recognized that the technology behind Cortana was very sound. In fact, there have been some studies that have shown Cortana was the most accurate digital assistant for certain types of inquiries. However, the company also acknowledged that it’s AI-powered voice computing platform needed to be used and positioned in a different way in order to have the biggest possible impact. As a result, at its annual Ignite developer conference, Microsoft debuted several new ways to interact with Cortana that reflect the realities of how most people prefer to invoke digital assistants—on mobile devices. In addition, and arguably even more importantly, this pivot also reflects a more mature perspective on the evolution of voice-based computing and points the way towards more focused, and more refined applications of the technology.

Specifically, Microsoft announced the ability to use Cortana within the iOS version of Outlook (with Android support coming in spring of 2020) to read back and reply to emails purely by voice, as well as to help schedule meetings and organize calendars using natural language requests. It’s clearly a much smaller set of requirements than would be placed on a general-purpose digital assistant, but the end result will (hopefully!) be an accurate and thorough delivery of those capabilities. In other words, instead of trying to go wide, Microsoft clearly wants to go deep and leverage its AI capabilities in a category (personal information management) and an application in which it has an extremely strong legacy. While ultimate success or failure will be determined by the execution of the idea, strategically this repositioning of Cortana makes a great deal of sense.

Remember that one of Microsoft’s biggest efforts over the last several years has been the development of what it calls the Microsoft Graph—a collection of data about an individual user’s productivity habits, documents, device usage patterns and virtually every aspect of his/her working life that can be gathered. By leveraging the Graph data in an intelligent way, the AI-powered capabilities driving Cortana should have a very rich data set from which to learn. That, in turn, should give this more focused version of Cortana the ability to deliver well-informed, intelligent responses that provide a richer, more robust experience than a general-purpose digital assistant could. Again, the proof will be in the pudding, but the concept of what Microsoft is attempting makes perfect sense.

Microsoft is also leveraging its strength in the business environment with these additions to Cortana, instead of focusing on the consumer market, as most of the other digital assistant platforms have. To that end, Microsoft said that it plans to bring more productivity and enterprise-specific additions to Cortana through upcoming integration with Teams and other parts of the Office 365 (O365) suite of services. In essence, the company is using Cortana as an AI brain that can be leveraged to help bring more intelligence to O365 users. It’s a more specialized approach that, frankly, Samsung would be wise to follow with its Bixby voice platform, which has similar challenges when it comes to rates of adoption.

Initially, many viewed voice-based digital assistants as general-purpose platforms that were essentially capable of responding to most any type of query. As the technology and marketplace have evolved, however, it increasingly appears that there are going to be opportunities for many different types of voice-based computing platforms, some of which are optimized for specific functions, just as there are many different types of people who have specialized knowledge in different areas. It’s still not entirely clear how these various assistant platforms and voice computing models will interact with one another (and how they’ll avoid stepping on each other), but the notion of a winner-take-all approach for voice-based digital assistants looks increasingly unlikely as time goes by. Instead, as Microsoft has demonstrated here, it’s time to start thinking about a multi-platform voice computing world.

Here's a link to the column:

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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