The launch of Cortana as a standalone app is yet another example of how Microsoft’s strategic priorities have shifted since Satya Nadella took the CEO reins in early 2014. Under the reign of his predecessor, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft always seemed reluctant to port its key software products onto platforms beyond the Windows and Xbox ecosystem. (Perhaps the biggest exception: Office for Mac.) Nadella, keenly aware of how far behind Microsoft has fallen in the mobile-device wars, has made a concerted effort to make Microsoft software more interoperable with rival platforms, starting with the release of Office for iOS in mid-2014.
Currently available only on Windows Phone, Cortana is a direct rival to Apple’s Siri and Google Now, but Microsoft evidently believes the platform can compete toe-to-toe in the areas of search, word recognition, and usefulness. An internal Microsoft project, codenamed “Einstein,” will reportedly augment Cortana’s artificial intelligence. And as with Office for iOS, Cortana will show whether Nadella’s policy of increased interoperability will help his company gain market- and mind-share in the mobile space.