Cortana Just Made An Alliance Between Android and Windows 10

cortana-on-androidYayhooo…it’s that time of year again when Microsoft talks about developer stuff at their BUILD Conference (2016). You might be wondering why an Android-centric blog like the one here at the Dark Android Project would be telling you about something at Microsoft’s BUILD, but there’s a simple answer to that…

I’ve mentioned on my tech podcast Sovryn Tech in the past that really, aside from the Google Play Store, you don’t have to use any of Alphabet/Google’s services on an Android device anymore. You could get away with using Microsoft apps on your mobile device pretty much exclusively. With a calendar/email app in Outlook, an entire Office suite including Word (which has become almost more feature-rich than Google Docs), OneDrive, Bing (I know), lock screen and launcher replacements…you could even replace Google Now with Microsoft’s own (for what it is) superior digital assistant: Cortana. There isn’t much that Google can do on your Android device that Microsoft can’t (even though the Groove music app sucks…hard). And to just get away from Google (and not run to “closed garden” Apple), I’ve even recommended to go ahead and use Microsoft’s services if you really feel the need to have those abilities.

SIDE NOTE: Preferably, you’d use neither Google’s, nor Microsoft’s services, but I understand some people have workflows that are a bit more collaboration-based and intensive than others. Otherwise I’d say just load it with what I recommend on the Dark Android Project’s main page.

But again, it’s always been under the auspices of replacing Google’s services, not necessarily in offering a superior product. But that may be about to change. Let’s talk about that last app I mentioned: Cortana. As announced at BUILD, Cortana is about to get a bit of an upgrade as to what it can do on Android…in conjunction with Windows 10. Now on Windows 10, Cortana is at the heart of the system (albeit optional to use), and as long as you stick within the bulk of Microsoft’s own software on that desktop operating system, Cortana can work in between each app–from the web browser to Microsoft Word, etc.–and create a rather interesting voice-operated workflow, and Cortana can very much end up being your virtual secretary (or as it’s more specifically called: “virtual assistant”). Siri and Google Now barely compete as long as you are sticking within Microsoft’s own software and app ecosystem.

That’s where Cortana traditionally falls apart, though. Not a lot of your everyday people exist within Microsoft’s ecosystem. Sure, they’re likely running Windows (maybe even Windows 10, at that), but that’s about as far as they go. They power up Google Chrome and that’s the end of Microsoft in their mind. But here’s what might change all of that: Microsoft announced at BUILD 2016 that if you have Cortana installed on your Android device, Cortana will now send you notifications to your Windows 10 desktop/laptop.

To put it in brief, if this works out as Microsoft has stated it will, Cortana is about to be able to offer you a whole lot of functionality outside of just Microsoft apps for a change. Now you’ll be able to interact with Instagram, Snapchat, perhaps even SMS messaging, or some other messaging app in general, whatever app you have one your phone…you’ll be able to interact with it (or at the very least get notifications) right onto your desktop. Google Now doesn’t offer that. Largely nothing that Google offers has that.

So while this won’t be available until Summer 2016 in a major Windows 10 update, I see as a very real “Trojan horse” for Microsoft’s ecosystem.

But what’s really odd for me is that this kind of software has existed for years. Pushbullet was the original app that allowed for this kind of Android-to-Windows capability. And until it became a paid service, it was doing a Hell of a job and it was very popular. Even my ASUS phone comes with software that you can install onto a Windows machine (not just Windows 10, like Cortana has to use) once you’ve plugged in your ASUS Android phone into a USB port on your laptop that will completely mirror your smartphone on your desktop screen. It’s actually pretty cool. You can play games, use your phone with your PC’s trackpad or mouse…it’s like running a virtual machine of your phone on your desktop. It’s fantastic. And somehow I don’t think Cortana is going to offer any functionality like that.

SIDE NOTE: ASUS’ technology that I described is, in my personal opinion and taste, the right way to do to bring your mobile abilities to your desktop. Just put it right through the USB (or local WiFi), no need for it to go through some servers somewhere in la-la-land that is collecting all of your data remotely. Of course, ASUS can provide such a service this way because they’ve already sold you the phone, and it only works with their specific devices. I love the feature, and if any company is to do it, this is how it should be done, in my opinion.

Point being, this new Cortana for Android/Windows 10 interactivity capability is old news, or worse, weaksauce for anyone that knows what they’re actually doing with their computers and devices.

But then offering a functionality that Google should already be offering–let alone Microsoft–isn’t what this is about. This is about data collection. Your data. Feeding information into Cortana to profile you. Giving Microsoft data on your app use habits. Trafficking every thing you do through Microsoft’s servers.

That’s what this is really about.

Maybe you’re okay with that. Maybe you’ll enjoy the trade off and don’t mind the loss of privacy. I leave that up to you. I’m not here to tell you what to do (unless you ask me, of course). But it’s important to keep in mind that many features–like this Android to Windows 10 notification system–aren’t created or implemented until these companies can figure out how monetize it (and your data is monetizable to them). And keep in mind that these “free” features aren’t free. They come at the cost of your privacy and personal data.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, they say? Maybe it should be there’s no such thing as a free app or service. Despite what these companies tell you.

SIDE NOTE: There are apps that are absolutely free and made by people that just want to make a solid app and maybe get some donations from you–no data collection involved–but those people mainly tried to solve a problem for themselves with an app and then gave it to the rest of the world. Or they just do it for fun. Kudos to these people. Not that I would’ve minded if they charged money for their great app.

I’m not saying Microsoft is doing something evil here. I’m not saying you need to avoid Cortana. I’m not trying to scare you (I would have written this very differently if I were). I’m just wanting to make sure you know that none of these services from the big tech companies are free. Your money isn’t the only way to pay for things.

Carpe lucem!