Are you using a digital personal assistant?

One of the design principles we established early with Cortana was the fact that a personal digital assistant is much more than just speech and conversational understanding, more than questions & answers, more than command & control of a device. By creating a deep understanding of the human over a time can result in highly personalized experiences across user experiences, spanning devices and applications. I find myself having to explain this point all the time because it’s not immediate obvious to all. Many associate digital companions with cute conversational experiences that can give you the current time when you ask them, the weather in Seattle (a frequent question to Cortana during her early days of development), the score to the last Seahawks game, or a curated joke. Yes, all those are basic capabilities and are expected by digital companions these day. However, we can do so much better than that and, indeed, the current generation of digital assistants have already taken the first steps towards trully personalized experiences.

I asked few people today at Facebook… all iPhone users… “How often do you use Siri?”. I ask you to consider the same question. In most likelihood you are going to say “almost never” or “not that often”. However, you are using Siri’s capabilities more often than you realize. In fact, many times in a day.

Do you scroll from your app launcher screen down to reveal the search box for apps? Do you see the app suggestions there? Do you scroll to the left to reveal the suggested apps, contacts, and news? Have you noticed who powers these personalized and highly contextual experiences? Here’s a screenshot from my iPad as I type this post. Suggested contacts based on my phone and email conversations, app recommendations, recommended things around my locations, news…

Notice anything at the top left of the screenshot? Let me zoom in for you…

Yes… Apple has given a name to the “intelligence” that powers these suggestions. In fact, rumours today suggest that Apple is bringing Siri to the MacOS, a similar move to Microsoft’s introduction of Cortana to Windows. Yes… “intelligent” experiences have a name, a personality (sometimes… i am looking at you Google Now), and follow us across devices, screens, operating systems. And I argue that’s good for us.

Digital companions are more than natural user interfaces and question/answers, even though these are important-to-have capabilities. They earn our trusts by using that deep understanding for our benefit, by being useful and contextually relevant all the time, by being our life companions in the digital realm.