Cortana was once one of Microsoft's biggest focuses. Starting as the spotlight feature of Windows Phone, she grew to live within and control everything in the Microsoft ecosystem. But now, Microsoft has changed course, renaming some of the former Cortana services and destroying the rest. And, like the company too often does, leaving the consumers to clean up the mess.
The end is here
The most recent update to the Cortana app on Windows 11 turns off all of her capabilities. Rather than the iconic interaction screen, you only get to see a farewell message. If you haven't updated the app and try to use it, anything you ask will be responded with "Cortana in Windows as a standalone app is deprecated. Select the link below to learn more." After the update, the interaction screen is done and, instead, a message that says "Cortana in Windows as a standalone app is deprecated." is displayed.
And with that, Cortana is lost to the past. Except for one thing - her corpse is still on your computer. If you want to move on from the days of Microsoft's now-abandoned digital assistant, you're going to need to remove the app yourself. Otherwise, you'll always have the reminder of what could have been if Microsoft hadn't abandoned it.
The history of Cortana
Cortana started off as Master Chief's digital companion in the Halo franchise. Voiced by Jennifer Taylor, Cortana became a major part of the game and its lore. So, when Microsoft decided to try to compete with Apple's Siri within Windows Phone, Cortana was the most logical way to go.
The company took a hybrid approach to Cortana's voice on Windows Phone. Some were direct recordings of Jennifer Taylor, such as jokes and songs, while others were created through a digitized voice based on her voice. This approach allowed the system to be versatile while also often sounding more human than digital.
Cortana became a major selling feature for Windows Phone, so Microsoft decided to expand the system beyond the phone. Windows 10 came with Cortana baked right into the operating system. Xbox One got an update that replaced the "Xbox" trigger word with "Hey Cortana" and the response and control system was upgraded to be Cortana on the console. Consumers generally liked the improvements.
Microsoft took this as a sign that it was time to expand Cortana into her own dedicated products. Harman Kardon announced the Invoke, a smart speaker like the Echo Dot or Google Home, except it had the quality of an HK speaker and the power of Cortana. Johnson Controls announced the GLAS, a beautiful thermostat with a translucent screen and Microsoft's digital assistant as the control system. You could call out to her with your voice to check the temp, change the settings, and a lot more.
But, Microsoft, as it so often does, began to abandon its technology. Satya Nadala became CEO and he never believed in Windows Phone, so the OS was discontinued, and with it, the hopes and dreams of Cortana. Over time, she has been shut down one piece at a time.
Microsoft announced the shutdown of the devices APIs. This is what the Invoke and GLAS used to access the features. So, the companies had to work to remove the features from their products and stil make the useful. GLAS simply removed the ability to talk to it at all. Otherwise, it worked exactly as it had via screen or app. The Invoke changed from a smart speaker to a simple Bluetooth speaker. This made both products very different from what people had purchased, and it was all Microsoft's fault.
Then came the OS shutdown. Windows 11 came with Cortana but as a standalone app - not part of the OS. The Xbox OS reverted Cortana to the "Xbox" wake phrase and removed all of the capabilities of Cortana. Now, we're here and Cortana is dead and soon to be replaced with the company's newest toy - Bing Chat. We'll see how long that one lasts for the company.