Microsoft Releases ‘Play My Emails’ Text-to-Speech Feature for Cortana in the iOS Outlook App

Alongside a slate of announcements made this morning, Microsoft has launched a new text-to-speech feature for Cortana in the Outlook app for iOS devices. With this feature, called "Play My Emails," the Outlook app uses Cortana's natural language interactions and AI to read out your latest emails.


Microsoft is aiming this feature at users who want to catch up on their inboxes while doing something else, like driving or working at their desks. Cortana starts by summarizing how many emails are new in the user's Focused Inbox in the last 24 hours, and if there have been any changes to their upcoming daily schedule, thanks to integration with Outlook's calendar.


Cortana also uses Microsoft Graph to identity the sender of each email in relationship to the user, so it's easier to know the context of the message without looking at the screen. Because of these abilities and more, Microsoft said that Play My Emails is more than just a text-to-speech update, but a way to have a natural conversation with Cortana.
Cortana synthesizes the information in the message header and meta data and marries it with the insights about you and information from apps and services that power Office 365. This provides a more meaningful and contextual readout.

The Play My Emails experience is like having a conversation with your personal assistant.
Play My Emails is launching today to customers in the United States for the Outlook app on iOS devices, and later it will launch on Android.


This article, "Microsoft Releases 'Play My Emails' Text-to-Speech Feature for Cortana in the iOS Outlook App" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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Siri on HomePod Asked 800 Questions and Answered 74% Correctly vs. Just 52% Earlier This Year

Apple analyst Gene Munster of Loup Ventures recently tested the accuracy of digital assistants on four smart speakers by asking Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana a series of 800 questions each on the Amazon Echo, HomePod, Google Home Mini, and Harmon Kardon Invoke respectively.


The results indicate that Siri on the HomePod correctly answered 74.6 percent of the questions, a dramatic improvement over the speaker's 52.3 percent success rate when Loup Ventures asked it a similar 782 questions in December 2017.


Siri on the HomePod remained less accurate than Google Assistant on the Google Home, which correctly answered 87.9 percent of questions in the test. Meanwhile, Alexa on the Echo and Cortana on the Invoke trailed Siri on the HomePod, correctly answering 72.5 percent and 63.4 percent of questions in the test.


Munster attributed the HomePod's improved accuracy to "the enabling of more domains in the past year," as a series of software updates in recent months have enabled the speaker to make and receive phone calls, schedule calendar events, set multiple timers, search for songs by lyrics, and more.

Methodology


Loup Ventures says it asked each smart speaker the same 800 questions, and they were graded on two metrics: whether the query was understood and whether a correct response was provided. The question set was designed to "comprehensively test a smart speaker's ability and utility" based on five categories:
  • Local – Where is the nearest coffee shop?
  • Commerce – Can you order me more paper towels?
  • Navigation – How do I get to uptown on the bus?
  • Information – Who do the Twins play tonight?
  • Command – Remind me to call Steve at 2 p.m. today.
The venture capital firm said it continues to modify its question set in order to reflect the changing abilities of digital assistants. "As voice computing becomes more versatile and assistants become more capable, we will continue to alter our test so that it remains exhaustive," said Munster.

Results by Category



Google Assistant on the Google Home correctly answered the most questions in four out of the five categories in the test, but fell short of Siri on the HomePod in the "command" category, according to Loup Ventures:
HomePod's lead in this category may come from the fact that the HomePod will pass on full SiriKit requests like those regarding messaging, lists, and basically anything other than music to the iOS device paired to the speaker. Siri on iPhone has deep integration with email, calendar, messaging, and other areas of focus in our Command category. Our question set also contains a fair amount of music-related queries, which HomePod specializes in.
Loup Ventures found the HomePod and Google Home stood "head and shoulders above the others" in both the "local" and "navigation" categories due to propriety data in Apple Maps and Google Maps respectively. "This data is a potential long-term comparative advantage for Siri and Google Assistant," said Munster.

What's Next


Siri's shortcomings were brutally exposed on the HomePod, which relies almost entirely on the assistant to function, so anecdotal evidence of improvement is a good sign, but Apple still has significant ground to make up against its competitors.

Loup Ventures acknowledged that Siri remains limited on the HomePod compared to its expanded capabilities on the iPhone. "This is partially due to Apple's apparent positioning of HomePod not as a 'smart speaker,' but as a home speaker you can interact with using your voice with Siri onboard," said Munster.

The venture capital firm said it will continue to compare the HomePod to other smart speakers over time amid rapid advancements in artificial intelligence.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Microsoft Releases Redesigned Cortana App for iOS

Microsoft today released an updated Cortana app for iOS, which features an overhauled interface and new features like music and podcasts support.

For those unfamiliar with Cortana, it is Microsoft's version of Siri or Alexa, an AI-based personal assistant that can answer questions and complete small tasks.


Microsoft has been testing the revamped version of Cortana since October. The new interface is focused on conversational experiences with Cortana, plus it includes support for music and podcast suggestions, and a focus on setting reminders, timers, and meetings.

Cortana 3.0 offers up a new conversational experience when asking questions, and there is a new dedicated spot for setting up and managing Cortana devices. Microsoft's full release notes for the update are below:
What's new:
· A new conversational experience for answers
· A new place to manage and set up your Cortana devices
· Listen to music and podcasts on the go
· Stay on top of your tasks managing meetings, emails, reminders and To Do on the go
· Join your next Skype or Teams meeting by simply asking Cortana
Microsoft's Cortana app for iOS can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]


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Microsoft Testing Revamped Version of Cortana App for iOS

Microsoft is testing a version of its Cortana app for iOS and Android devices that features a major interface overhaul and new features, according to Windows Central.

The updated app, which is being tested by beta testers, features a user interface that's focused on conversational experiences with Cortana, along with support for music and podcast suggestions, and a focus on setting reminders, timers, and meetings.


For those unfamiliar with Cortana, it is Microsoft's personal assistant, available on Microsoft devices and other devices through iOS and Android apps. It is equivalent to Apple's Siri, Samsung's Bixby, and Google's Google Assistant.

Full release notes for the new features in the current beta are below:
- An update to the UI enabling conversational experiences with Cortana and a new place to manage and set up your Cortana devices

- Listen to music and podcasts on the go. Just ask Cortana to play your favorite tunes and podcasts with Spotify, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn on your phone or through a paired Bluetooth device

- Stay organized and on task. Set reminders, timers and create meetings with your voice

- Join your next Skype or Teams meeting by simply asking Cortana. You can also manage your calendar or send a quick email by voice
Following the beta testing period for the app, the new features with the redesigned interface will roll out to the official Cortana for iOS app. Cortana for iOS can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]


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Microsoft’s Virtual Assistant Gains Alternative ‘Cortana’ Activation Command

Microsoft is giving users of its Cortana virtual assistant another way to activate it with their voice. As reported by The Verge, owners of the first Cortana-integrated Invoke speaker can now summon the assistant using just “Cortana” rather than the typical “Hey, Cortana” phrase, although that continues to work as well. The alteration is expected to trickle down to Cortana for iOS in the near future.



Microsoft hasn’t offered a reason for the new option, but probably doesn’t need to, given that many users will find “Cortana” easier to say, just as Amazon’s “Alexa” is on supporting devices. Alexa users can also choose an alternative “Echo” invocation, but owners of Apple devices must use the phrase “Hey, Siri” (and its equivalent in other languages) to get the attention of Apple’s digital assistant.

Apple has never indicated it will offer a way to customize the “Hey, Siri” invocation – perhaps because it’s not technologically viable, given the way Siri listens for the activation phrase via an energy-preserving coprocessor. But the ability to do so could theoretically help users specify which device their request is directed at when multiple Apple devices are present (“Hey, HomePod,” for example). Aside from offering a little more personalization, the option could also help device owners prevent accidental or prank requests from other sources, like TV ads, podcasts, and so on.

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Microsoft Planning to Integrate Cortana Into Outlook Apps for iOS and Android

Microsoft is planning to integrate its AI assistant Cortana directly into the Outlook mobile apps on iOS and Android, according to people familiar with the company's plans speaking with The Verge. Cortana currently offers various email-related actions and commands on supported devices, but the assistant can not be called up within Outlook on smartphones.

Image by Tom Warren via The Verge

With the addition of Cortana, Outlook users will be able to hear their emails read aloud and respond to them with their voice. Details are still scarce, but the sources said that command phrases will include asking Cortana "What's my email," or asking to read recent emails from a specific contact.
The Cortana integration will allow users of the popular mobile email client to listen to and respond to emails with their voice. This will be particularly useful during car journeys, and Microsoft is testing Cortana integration directly within Outlook mobile that will work over Bluetooth and read messages aloud. Users will be able to ask Cortana phrases like “what’s my email,” or just to read messages from specific contacts.
The most recent Cortana-related iOS news saw the AI assistant's iOS app gain native iPad support last month. Prior to that, Microsoft updated Cortana's iPhone app last October with a revamped interface and improved performance.

Microsoft and Google each have apps dedicated to their AI assistants on the iOS App Store, aimed as competitors to Siri. The main limitation of the non-Apple assistants is that they lack system-wide functionality on iPhones and iPads, and can only work within their own apps.

Right now, the Cortana Outlook update is being tested internally within Microsoft and "if the feedback is positive," then it will make its way to beta and public releases of Outlook on iOS and Android.


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Microsoft’s Cortana Assistant Now Available on iPad

Microsoft today updated its Cortana app for iOS with native iPad support. The design looks essentially the same as the iPhone version, but with an interface optimized for the larger 7.9-inch to 12.9-inch screen sizes of Apple's tablets.


The release notes also mention that Cortana now opens 20 percent faster:
What's new:
Introducing a brand-new Cortana for iPad design. Enjoy an exclusive layout and interface for your iPad.
Cortana now launches 20% faster! Enjoy a lightning-fast experience.
Like rivals Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, Cortana is a digital assistant that can set reminders, schedule calendar appointments, respond to queries, and provide other information through machine learning techniques.

Apple only allows third-party assistants to function within their apps, however, limiting their usefulness versus Siri on iPhone and iPad. For example, Cortana can't be invoked with a voice command when an iOS device is locked.

Nevertheless, iPad users now have one more assistant to choose from alongside Siri and Alexa. Cortana is available for free on the App Store.


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Cortana for iOS Gains New Look, Faster Reminder Creation and Improved Performance

Microsoft today updated its Cortana app for iOS, improving the way the AI assistant works on iOS devices. Designed to compete with Siri, Cortana is a personal assistant that can do things like set reminders, schedule calendar appointments, answer queries, and offer up information you're interested in through machine learning techniques.

Today's iOS app update introduces a revamped look that Microsoft says offers a simpler, better user experience. It's easier and faster to create reminders using the new interface, and there's a redesigned profile and settings page for managing preferences.


Cortana features improved performance when it comes to page transitions and app responsiveness, and there are also general bug fixes.
We are bringing major updates to make Cortana a better assistant for you:
- A fresh new look with a simpler and improved user experience
- It's now easier and faster to create reminders to help you stay on top of things
- Redesigned profile and settings page to easily manage your preferences
- Improved performance particularly faster page transitions and app responsiveness
- Regular bug fixes and performance improvements
The Cortana app for iOS devices first launched in December of 2015. Cortana is built into Windows devices as well, so customers who use Windows and are accustomed to Cortana may prefer to use the iOS app for reminders and other tasks.

Cortana can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]


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