Microsoft Cortana is often overlooked when talking about voice assistants. This is largely because it has lagged Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in the trifecta of smart speaker adoption, third-party integrations and third-party skills. Cortana skills did climb from 174 to 235 between the end of October and December 2017. That is a 35% growth rate. If you look at the last six months of 2017, Cortana skill growth rose 305%.
The challenge for Microsoft is twofold when drawing a comparison with Alexa or Google. First, the skill growth rate is good, but it is off of a low base. A Cortana skill total of 235 doesn’t compare favorably to 1719 Google Assistant apps or 25,000 Alexa skills. Second, there is a dearth of big media and brands among the existing Cortana skill base. This reflects a hesitation of larger companies to support the Cortana platform. There appears to be a lack of enthusiasm for Cortana across the board.
What’s Missing and What’s Next
Cortana can do a lot of things, but from a third-party developer standpoint there are key gaps. Developers routinely complain about the certification process not being as efficient or as well documented those offered by Google and Amazon. There is also no media player functionality so entertainment and educational content options are limited. This is all a problem if Microsoft is going to compete vigorously in the consumer market which does not appear to be the case. It is still possible Microsoft will become more competitive in the consumer space as Xiaomi is now distributing a low-cost smart speaker with Cortana in China. That partnership could extend to other countries.
However, it seems that Cortanas best strategic option will be to focus on enterprises where it can leverage the Windows and Office franchises as launch pads for new use cases. It is where the bulk of Microsoft’s claimed 145 million monthly active Cortana users reside today. That could lead to a surge in Cortana skills designed for business users. If Microsoft is going to be successful, it needs to gain traction somewhere. Business users still represent an open market segment that Cortana can capture. It looks like any chance Cortana had for near-term consumer adoption, has now past.