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Microsoft will pull iOS, Android Cortana apps on March 31

Microsoft will say goodbye to the Android and iOS Cortana apps on March 31. The company has retreated from the consumer market to focus on Cortana in 365.

Microsoft will kill the standalone Cortana mobile apps at the end of the month, focusing instead on tailoring the voice assistant for 365.

This week, Microsoft said it will retire the iOS and Android apps in the U.S. on March 31. The move marks a withdrawal from the consumer market.

"We're making some changes to certain pre-existing Cortana capabilities that were more consumer-centric," the company said in a statement. Instead, Microsoft will begin "doubling down on areas where we think Cortana can really make an impact when it comes to user productivity."

Over the last year, Microsoft has pulled Cortana from music apps and smart home applications. This month, the company dropped the digital assistant from the only smart speaker that supported it, the Harman Kardon Invoke.

Microsoft has surrendered the smart speaker market to Amazon's Alexa. According to eMarketer, 69.7% of U.S. smart speaker owners have an Amazon Echo device. The Invoke was among the "other" devices that comprise 18.4% of the market.

In the smartphone arena, Voicebot reported Apple's Siri and Google Assistant had the lion's share of users, at 45.1% and 29.9%, respectively. Cortana did not register in the firm's findings.

Microsoft has touted Cortana capabilities in 365 applications including Outlook and Teams. Whether enterprises see a benefit in voice controls, though, remains an open question.

Forrester Research analyst Collin Colburn said voice assistants are only marginally helpful because of a lack of accuracy. A 2019 Forrester study found that Cortana correctly answered about 40% of a set of 300 questions. Google Assistant did the best, at 60%, while Alexa and Siri were at only 22% and 17%, respectively.

Microsoft Outlook
Microsoft has shifted Cortana to business use like the Play My Email feature in Outlook.

"Let's be honest: Most of these voice assistants are actually not that smart," Colburn said.

Niel Nickolaisen, CIO of employee recognition and rewards firm O.C. Tanner, said the company's employees had the option of using Cortana as part of 365. But he added that he wasn't sure how much he could trust Microsoft to protect privacy.

"How much do I want Microsoft to know about what I do?" he said.

Microsoft has said it uses customer data gleaned from Cortana only to improve machine learning tools.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering end-user computing topics such as desktop management. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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