What is the best AI voice assistant: Microsoft Cortana or Apple Siri? In this Siri vs. Cortana feature, we look at two AI assistants. Apple Siri is the famous voice behind the iPhone; Cortana is the newer Microsoft equivalent, coming soon to Windows 10 on all platforms. So which is best: Siri or Cortana? We think that Cortana has the edge in terms of semantically being able to segue into your life, and the fact that it is now baked in to Windows 10. But Siri is, in our experience, a better and more accurate tool. Right now at least.

The good news is that by the end of the year you will be able to try out Cortana on your iPhone, as Microsoft is making the tool available as an app for iOS. Here, then, is our Siri vs Cortana comparison review. For more on Siri, take a look at our complete guide: How to use Siri: 'Hey Siri!' and all the other Siri features

Siri vs Cortana: what they are, why they matter

Anything Apple can do; Microsoft can do later. It's an adage, but almost four years after Apple made Siri an integral part of iOS, Microsoft released Cortana, its Siri-a-like feature for Windows Phone.

While it’s easy to scoff at Microsoft following again in Apple's footsteps, voice control has been making real gains in recent years and Apple was never going to be the only tech company to have a voice control aspect to its phones. Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that Google's 'Okay Google' Google Now service is one area in which [whisper it] Android is better than iOS.

Siri itself has made some real strides in recent months and is now more responsive and more intelligent than ever. Siri has become more intelligent and in the UK more capable than ever. But Cortana is also a rapidly improving feature. And when Windows 10 drops as a free upgrade for Window PCs and laptops in late July 2015, Cortana will be a part of it. We expect Siri to make its OS X bow with the upcoming El Capitan release, although Apple is currently staying coy on that subject.

Interestingly Microsoft is making Cortana available for Android and iOS, so pretty soon you will be able to use it on your iPhone, alongside or instead of Siri.

So there has never been a more important time to compare the Apple- and Microsoft voice assistants. And in this feature this is what we are going to do: we’re going to look at Microsoft Cortana vs. Apple Siri.

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Siri vs Cortana: What is Microsoft Cortana?

Cortana is a voice activated assistant for Windows Phone devices, soon to be baked into Windows 10 for all platforms. It operates much in the same way as Apple Siri. Users ask Cortana questions, or make requests, and it answers them or activates the appropriate feature on the phone. Like Siri, it has a name, and a personality to make the process of talking to your phone seem less weird.

Video game buffs will know that Cortana is the name of the Ai companion in the famous Halo series. Microsoft no longer owns Bungie, the makers of Halo, but it seems to want to bring this artificial agent into the real world.

Cortana vs Siri: activating the voice assistant

Users activate Cortana in much the same way as Siri. Hold down the Search button on the Windows Phone (running the Windows 8.1 update), and Cortana will appear. Now speak the request, such as “call Alex” or “set an alarm for 8 o’clock” and Cortana will respond accordingly.

Unlike Siri, Cortana is designated as an app in Windows Phone. So it has its own icon that you can tap (this also activates Cortana).

Siri is activated by holding down the Home button on the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad.

Siri vs Cortana activating the voice assistant

What neither system does, just yet, is persistently monitor the audio and respond when you say, “Siri” or “Cortana” out loud. You have to activate both systems by physically tapping the device. We’re sure this functionality is coming at some point down the line, on both devices, but it probably has functionality and battery implications at the moment.

Siri vs Cortana: Which devices will run Microsoft Cortana

Cortana first came along as part of the Window 8.1 update. Today Cortana is available as what Microsoft deems a 'beta' to all users of Windows Phone 8.1 in the United States and the UK, as well as China Users in certain countries can also choose to opt-in to the alpha for the English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish versions of Cortana on Windows Phone. In most of these regions, Cortana is also available via Windows Insider to both PC and mobile preview users of Windows 10.

Windows 10 launches at the end of July 2015 as a free upgrade to all users of Windows 7 and Windows 8, on PC, laptop, tablet and smartphone. Cortana will be part of that update.

On PCs and tablets Cortana will be accessed through the search button in the taskbar, while on smartphones Cortana will still be brought up using the search key on the device. Microsoft has also announced that Cortana will soon be available on other mobile platforms. An Android release is set for July 2015 followed by an iOS release later in the year. So pretty soon you will be able to use both Cortana and Siri on your iPhone. Cortana is also coming to Xbox as part of the Windows 10 roll out. It's gonna be everywhere - like it or not.

Siri vs Cortana: What can you do with Cortana and Siri

Both Siri and Cortana offer a wide range of similar functionality. Both Cortana and Siri enable you to do the following tasks:

  • Make calls to contacts
  • Send texts and emails
  • Set alarms
  • Create calendar events
  • Open apps
  • Adjust settings
  • Make conversions
  • Search the web
  • Get directions
  • Look up Movie times
  • Create reminders
  • Play music

Siri vs Cortana interface

Siri vs Cortana: What Cortana has over Siri

Cortana has a few (not many) features that it lists that are unique. These are things it can do that Siri cannot. Here are some that we have heard of:

  • Cortana can look up flight times and flight information directly
  • Cortana has contact based reminders. So Cortana can give you a reminder when you start texting or emailing a person.
  • Cortana features Shazam-style music recognition.

These do not seem like make-or-break features to us, and we think that Siri will feature Shazam and flight times. The contact-based reminders feature is more interesting, and Microsoft should deserve credit for coming up with a unique feature for Cortana (even though the rest of Cortana owes such a big debt to Siri).

Siri vs Cortana: sense of humour

Cortana has the same humorous retorts that have made Siri famous. You can ask Cortana to tell you a joke, or you can ask Cortana about Siri and get similar snarky responses to Siri would reply about Google. If anything it seems that Microsoft has made Cortana even edgier than Siri, leading the American Comedian Arsenio Hall to create this a skit in which both Siri and Cortana start to fight on air.

Siri vs Cortana: the verdict

For the time being it seems that both Siri and Cortana offer similar functionality, although we are impressed with Microsoft's approach of tying reminders and events to people and prompting you when you get in touch. In-depth testing will allow us to explore whether Siri or Cortana offers better basic voice recognition, although both services will evolve the more you use them. In our limited experience, however, we find Siri subjectively easier to use.

Siri vs Cortana: the iPhone Android poll