Cortana Windows Phone
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Windows Phone and the coming of ‘Cortana’ to take on Apple’s Siri

Come this April, Microsoft is expected to unveil Windows Phone 8.1 at their Build conference in San Francisco. That OS refresh will be announced on the 18 month anniversary of 8.0, putting Microsoft on the dot for their planned release cycle, one that is expected to be accelerated to 12 months next time around i.e. ‘Threshold’.

One of the anticipated features of 8.1 is codenamed ‘Cortana’, its namesake taken from the AI assistant from the popular gaming franchise Halo. ‘Cortana’ is expected to replace (or augment) the current Bing TellMe service found on Windows Phone 8.0. Recently, MSFTNerd, who claims to be in the know about certain Microsoft plans, has made some interesting assertions about ‘Cortana’.

The Halo voice comes to Windows Phone?

In a brief post on his Tumblr account, MSFTNerd states the following:

“Cortana will be voiced by Jen Taylor & will launch first in beta on Lumia this April for US developers. The service will expand to the Bing app for iPhone in the US market this fall. The underlying technology will be extended to American Xbox One & Windows users in 2015 with Threshold. Availability in additional English-speaking territories will be spread out over 2015 & 2016.”

We’ve been digging around for some information regarding ‘Cortana’ and from various sources, we now know that some of this may be wishful thinking.

Specifically, the name. While just about everyone wants Microsoft to call their new voice assistant Cortana – even the folks at Microsoft – as usual these things are not that simple. For one, Halo is developed by 343 Industries, which is owned by Microsoft but still operates as its own company in many ways. So while taking the name of an AI character from a video game an appropriating it for a voice tool for a phone seems like a no-brainer from a geek perspective, the reality of it is it’s not that easy due to licensing and even business considerations.

Microsoft TellMe

That’s not to say Microsoft is not considering it – they certainly are – it’s just not clear yet if they can pull it off. There is some precedent though, including the re-branding of Microsoft’s project ‘Surface’ to ‘PixelSense’, allowing Microsoft to adopt that name for their tablet line. The difference there, however, was Microsoft Surface at the time was not a widespread consumer product, making disambiguation more straightforward (instead, Microsoft Surface was sold as an end-to-end product directly to large firms).

Unfortunately, we have not been able to confirm that Jen Taylor, the voice of the AI in Halo, will be doing the vocal sound for the ‘Cortana’ project on Windows Phone. In fact, there is a problem here to consider, as brought to our attention by one of our sources:  “…programmed voices have to be able to pronounce almost anything and getting a human voice recorded that would sound like the game version when all dialog is set might not pan out.”

To put it another way, if Taylor is the voice for the Windows Phone program, it’s not well known throughout the ranks just yet, nor is it in current builds. So if true, it's a very recent decision that hasn't been executed yet. We'll follow up as we collect more information on the matter.

The good news is ‘Cortana’ is set to go into private beta testing with family members at Microsoft, so long as they sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). This suggests that the project is ready-enough for external testing, and it bodes well for April’s reveal at Build 2014.

In terms of porting ‘Cortana’ to the iPhone and Xbox, while this sounds like a good idea, according to people familiar with the matter this has not yet begun. So the decision may have been made at an executive level, but currently there are no builds yet floating around. Indeed, ‘Threshold’ is still more ideas than a reality at this point with features not yet committed to by the development teams. But it should be clear that ‘Cortana’ is an ambitious project by Microsoft, one that they would naturally extend to their other services and platforms.

Design

Superintendent Halo Windows Phone
The Superintendent from Halo 3: ODST is similiar to what the UI for "Cortana" might look like.

What does ‘Cortana’ look like? We’ve heard one description, a little bit dated but still accurate, put it thusly:

"...a little blue circle in the top left of this Cortana UI that slightly bounces as it listens/works in the background. And it responds depending on if it was successful or not. So if it can't find anything the blue circle turns into a sad face. It reminds me a bit of the Superintendent from Halo 3: ODST.”

Another person familiar with Microsoft’s ‘Cortana’ plans put it this way:

“The personality of Cortana is currently represented by a circle graphic that expresses what it's doing (searching, identifying music ala the current Bing music listener built into Windows Phone, etc.) by various animations like spinning, flipping, etc.  …more animations [have] come in over time, and the color is based on your theme color.”

In terms of functionality, we previously described ‘Cortana’ being very Siri-like:

“This Cortana magic will be found throughout the OS and work contextually. For example, let's say I send you an SMS that says like "Want to get dinner tomorrow in Seattle?" You'll see parts of that text message underlined. Click that and you'll be able to instantly enter the info into your calendar with some of those fields already populated. So it would fill "Seattle" as the location, if I had said a time it will already have the time there.”

It is rather “sci-fi / Halo-ish” in terms of looks, but it’s not clear that it will actually be called Cortana nor use Jen Taylor’s voice.

Coming soon

Hope springs eternal though and Microsoft is well aware of the demand to associate Windows Phone with their Halo franchise. However, we’ll have to wait and see exactly what Redmond can pull off come this April. ‘Cortana’, whatever it may be called, should be one of many new features coming to Windows Phone 8.1, giving Microsoft a new edge with their burgeoning OS.

And we can’t wait.

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Reader comments

Windows Phone and the coming of ‘Cortana’ to take on Apple’s Siri

367 Comments

OMG❕ Can't wait❕❕❕❕
One thing I really would like to see is Cortana being able initially respond to commands by voice only. IOW, if my phone is in my pocket I can simply say "Cortana, play Stairway to heaven" and "she" will wakeup, and answer me, instantly.. I don't want to have to press a single button or every have to touch the device... I was thinking about this the other day,, but guess what, coincidentally my buddy updated his Maxx to KitKat, and he was doing this exact same thing today... He set his phone about 5 feet away with it locked, and said something like "Google Play" and it answered him back..
I'm gonna be really disappointed if Cortana can't do this..

I don't even care if Jen Taylor is going to voice It or not. Just call it Cortana for gods sake! Also Siri was also recorded by a human so why would that be a problem with Jen Taylor and Cortana?

If Jen Taylor can't do it, I'm sure MS can get either Fran Dresher (The Nanny) or Rosanne Barr to do it. They haven't dont much lately and either would certainly draw attention to the feature.

Here's how that would go with "Kimi Cortana":

Cortana - Find the best route home. "Just leave me alone. I know what I'm doing".

And then your HERE-Maps powered car would take you home in a record time, without breaking speed limits, avoiding traffic jams and manouvering the like a Pro, *
but that all wold cost you extra (which you would not notice because your car is already hilariously expen$ive)

Siri inc started human voice recording back in 2005. And finished it in about 4-5 years.
Where as Microsoft started the project back in 2013.

Apple doesn't use the voice data from Siri. They didn't consider it high enough quality. They licensed the voice (and the high quality voices in Mac OS X) from Nuance.  Doesn't anyone around here know of such a thing as search engines????!

That is very optimistic! ;);) We have waited much longer in the past for updates. I hear there are some still waiting on 7.8?!

So, anyone can shout "Google Play" near a Kitkat phone and get someone busted in a classroom, courtroom, silent study area of library? :o

Really? With the phone locked? I find that hard to believe, surely it would destroy the battery if the phone was constantly listening for commands.

First off @rockstarzzz not anyone can shout Google Play and make it do stuff. The new Motorola devices have a feature built in called touchless control that you train to listen for YOUR voice. However someone who can make themselves sound similar may have luck getting it to cooperate.

Also @Dare2Blink the new Motorola phones are built off of Motorola's X8 architecture which uses 8 cores for different functionality one of those cores is specifically dedicated to natural language processing meaning the device can use little to no battery while that core waits for you to talk to it. It's actually pretty nifty if you wanted to look into it. However I can't imagine Cortana doing anything similar to this unless some of the new devices came with a processor that had functionality similar to Motorola's X8 architecture.

Another Android Lover nudging poking his nose over here.Well one for you too.Even if there came a Droid with 16 cores and 6 gigs of Ram, still it would fucking lag and be less in comparision with 1520 having Quad Core and 2 gb Ram.So BITCH PLEASE again!

Seriously, the man gives objectively good information and you have to go and slam him? I am assuming you want less people to respect this site, so you troll for comments like this to make sure no one else wants to switch over to WP. 

Huh?I am commenting in favour of WP are you blind or what?I am a WP fan since i bought my 520.What i am trying to say is if u love Android so much then go and boast of it on ANDROID related site.Why are these fools messing around this site when they know it is a WP site.And i want people to switch to WP.From what it seems to me is u are probably another Droid fanboy.

Man. Stunning that a mobile operating system with 4% market share could have such a-hole trolls. The guy was trying to inject some factual information into a discussion previously dominated by conjecture. 

BTW...the Moto X with this architecture and always listeining running routinely pulls 24 hours of battery life.

Android is a horribly inefficient OS. That's obvious by the specs required to get it functional compared to iOS and Windows Phone. The iPhone 5S is just dual core with 1GB of RAM, and it bests most benchmarks.  Half of Windows Phone 8 devices only have 512MB of RAM.  You know that right now Windows Phones have screens that are always on called "glance" and that you can double-tap the screen to wake it up, this with minimal battery drain. Listening for changes in volume at the register of human voice is probably already built into most phones due to the requirements of background noise reduction.  One of those so-called "cores" is probably just a common DSP.

yes an always on, dedicated low power chip that processes sound and listens for the keys words is similar to a light sensor /s

Who says there's only one way to make this work❔.. Is Motorola's way the only way possible❔... You sound a little closed minded.. And, yes WP doesn't have this kind of hardware, but that's besides the point.. That's like someone saying that they want a 2k screen, and you saying "but the OS doesn't support that yet""" Umm, OK.. Pointless... It's called updates to software, and hardware which is the whole freeking point.... Wow❕

You want to point us to your CV that shows you have the education and the job experience to know that it's so vastly different?

It's "ok google", I tried it with a nexus 5 on a display. But imagine what would happen if all android devices get this, hahaha, and be in the streets and say OK Google, call mom. Hahahaha

You don't even have to say "OK Google" to activate it. It's nowhere near as smart or as accurate or advanced as this guy would like to think. Try saying "bouquet doodle" or "snow day bugle".  Google Now is not Siri, no matter how much Android users want it to be. 

Firstly just FYI, the phrase used for Google Now is "Okay, Google." So for example you can say "Okay, Google. Search Windows Phone Central". Plus, Google Now isn't a full fledged personal assistant. Mainly it only conducts web searches. 

Google Now has been widely criticized for chewing up battery as the microphone has to always be on. Mind you I agree it would be a great feature. I doubt very much MS will do this. As much as they are brave with the initial concepts of Windows Phone, I've noticed Microsoft play it safe on a lot of new features. Mostly copying iOS. So expect another hold-down-start-button activation.

P.s. In my personal opinion, I would love to access Cortana from the search button. At the moment the search button is my second most underused button (Back button is highly used, start button I barely ever use at all) so if you pressed the search button and it took you to the normal Bing page, then it turned the microphone on and you were able to start talking to it but you also didn't have to. So a sort of Google Now method, but only within the search environment. And perhaps have more information displayed like appointments so that the search screen is not a complete personal assistant. Anyone following my thinking? lol...

 

Google Now is a lot more than a way to do voice web searches. Just because it doesn't have an artificial persoanlity Like Siri or Cortana, it doesn't mean it's any less of a personal asssitant. You can ask questions and it will speak back to you, you can tell it to set a reminder by time or location. You can ask for directions and it will provide them. You can tell it to play a song, and it will play. It keeps tracks of what you say and search for and present you with related "cards" (almost kind of creepy -- for ie. you Search for "Lone Survivor" on your computer, look on your phone and you have start times and distance/travel time to the nearest movie theater). It keeps track of your favorite sports teams or whatever subjects you'd like to keep up with, it translates and plenty more. While I'm not pro-Google, I must admit that it's quite powerful and amazes me at times. I'm an HTC One owner (only until WP comes with a device to win me back). I have a feeling MSFT's Cortana will fall short as they're still playing "catch up" with WP...as they've been doing for some time now.

As for the "always listen" mode of the Moto X, my co-worker has to say "OK Google Now" to activate the always listen mode versus just saying "OK Google" when Google now is up and running.

Ahh, my apologies.. I'm going off what my friends have said who own a nexus 5. Must be a different command for different devices perhaps? On the nexus 5 it's definitely "Okay google". I've seen it in person.

Well, count me out, as they've already done that with their current inception of wp. Did you LOOK at a competitors UI recently? Looks like the 90ies trapped in phone...

UI is one thing, albeit a huge thing. The other huge, and more important issue to most people, is the support for the OS. Just about EVERY service or device (that supports mobile OS') supports iOS and Android whereas I would guess 1% of those peripheral devices support WP

That is yes and no.  For the most part the only thing i am missing is 'all the games'  Though the games i do have more than keep me busy so that is a non issue for me.

 

Bank apps?  What for when i can pop into desktop mode and view all 3 of my banking sites and do all the functions any 'app' would do, and more since i am logged into the full website and not an 'app'.  Would i like an app? maybe, it does take up space, memory for no reason.  Now productivity apps that have no equivalent in the internet world is certainly what i like.  Though i have all those on my Win8 phone now, like office.

Since i have switched I have not looked at my phone and went darn, i have to trade it in because this feature is needed and it doesnt have it.  Other than games which is highly subjective imo, my device has not slowed me, it has helped me tons (office a major one).

Well if you go by the constant flow of tears, and threats of, "if MS doesn't do ____, I'm getting the next android!" that you get here alone then it shouldn't matter. Despite the "disapointment, tears, and bratty bullcrap their numbers are increasing.

I already am. In a word, WP8 is stale. It is not evolving as quickly as Android so I've gone to the darkside and have seen the light. There are quicker updates, and much better keyboard choices on Android....options of either default, Swype or SwiftKey for Android....both of which are not available on WP8. MS-Outlook works fine on Android and other powerhouse applications like MS-Office aren't really usable on any small device so what does WP8 truly offer right now?

I'll wait and see what WP8.1 holds, but I don't think I'll be back until WP9....if it ever comes.

I really like your comment. Thank you. Seriously. You made me chuckle. So much more.....well just so much more clever as compared to all the haters and their whining. We all have opinions and while they whine I respect their opinions....which is something they obviously don't.

And yes darkness is appealing. it's like being bad.....and bad is always so much more fun than being good.

Lumia black... Is very dark
I hope WP gets all the features we want, but in a uniquely WP way. (including cortana with Jen taylor's voice in a NATURAL, non-siri robot voice!)

Fully understand you. I'm starting to lose patience as well. If we get iPhones at work I will switch.

Teen or not, he has a point. Even Apple realizes that so they tried to make a refresh with iOS7 - still stale.

You must be completely out of touch with the news if you think wp8 is stale. Updates every few months is hardly slow. Besides the fact that the past few updates have been, as everybody already knows, about enabling new hardware and the real fun begins with 8.1. Moving to android because of keyboard options is ridiculous since the keyboard on wp8 is excellent. Especially ridiculous when you have to deal with your phone slowing down as it gets full ( or even before if you have a Samsung), malware and horrible UI.

Really @Dare2Blink? Malware? I've owned an Android device since day 1 and I've never had an issue. The only way to get malware is by pirating paid applications, and if that's how you got it you deserve it in my opinion.

Or you know, by downloading apps directly from the store. While this has been cleaned up immensely, and I don't know if it's still an issue, your vector being the 'only' way is wildly innaccurate.

I've never had issues either so thank you. Oh, the issues I did have were with Lumia's restarting themselves for no reason. Oh and three 920s that got the "spinning wheels of death" with the one WP8 update that came out while the 920 was a the flagship device. Oh, and having to get 3rd party apps for mainstream tools for so long because developers had the "wait and see" attitude about WP8.

Oh wait, we were talking about Android malware...sorry. My bad  :)

Uh, Google has used Android's Remote Application Removal feature quite a few times for apps with malware embedded in the Play Store.   You can search for that term and find Google's own blogs talking about having to use it, and you can find articles about it being used as recently as December 2013.  Google has no vetting process for apps. You pay your money and upload your app. They don't even check to make sure if the app is functional. There's lots of 1 and 2 star apps where the reviews all say "crashes" and "won't load" etc. Google is basically the ONLY one who doesn't vet their apps. Microsoft doesn't vet for content like Apple does, but they do make sure that it runs on the hardware that it claims. 

I'll play with my new non-WP phone for a while, but I'll keep an eye out for 8.1. The real fun was supposed to start with 8.0, but that was quite disappointing in the end. Well, I'll wait, see, and judge then.

One of the plusses of WP when switching from all apple mobile devices was the predictive text features. And I love office on WP

Don't bet on it. I seem to remember many saying that WP8 was to be the savior over WP7 and nothing could be done to make people hate it more than WP7. That hasn't gone so well either now has it?

And yet WP8 is now growing faster YoY compared to iOS and Android, and in fact has overtaken iOS in some markets so contrary to what you want to believe, it's doing OK.

Compare price point to price point, how well are the "over $600" -devices selling now versus the competition in comparison to one year ago.

WP as a whole is still growing which is good for everyone, I believe.
 

I have high hopes! I love my Lumia 920, just as I did my HTC Titan, and just as I will my next windows phone. Personally, and it is a matter of taste and/or personal perception to each and every user, I don't want what everyone else has. I like the fact that my windows phone is as unique as I am. For myself, I have all the apps I need or can use. My phone is FULL, and there are plenty of apps that I dont ever use for any reason, but I do have all that I need. If I download anything else, its just to see how it works, or a game I want to try, most of which get deleted once I realize they're not being played. I'm not really big on the games myself, but I play on the bus to pass time. Mostly, I browse the web for news from sites like WP Central, and spend my time reading up on the latest devices and happenings in the WP World. No complaints about my phone's performance in that category either!! Works great, and gets awesome reception and speed! Even though LTE isn't in my town yet. Now that is something id like to see!! Enjoy!!

Good it will be US only for the first years. cant believe an english or european citizen could speak english with that voice control

Come on man this is bullshit, if Microsoft is going to dissapoint with Windows Phone 8.1 then i'm leaving this ecosystem! They are way too slow and they are going to lose many more costomers, watch my word. I'm not going to Google, i hate them. Apple is the way i'm heading, they know exactly what costumers want and this year is the year they are going to release a bigger iPhone and it will sell like hotcakes.

 

Credo.

If Apple knows exactly what customers want, then why are they changing the size of their phone yet again?  Or are you saying that Apple hasn't known what people want previously but now they think they do?

Microsoft is going to fail if they keep trying to outdo Apple. They need to innovate and suit trying to compete with Apple.

Yeah but sadly regardless of all the cool new things Cortana might do that Siri does not currently do, Apple will eventually release the same features later and all the sheep will claim that Apple "innovated" it first!!  Lol.

Ironinc in that it has been claimed that Bill Gates stole the Windows concept from a tiny company called Apple and became the world's largest PC OS and Office Suite provider. I guess payback is a b*&ch and now Apple is stealing from Bill Gates and was for a bit the world's largest cell phone provider until they too stopped innovating.

Anyone who knows anything about the birth of the pointer-driven GUI knows it came from Xerox before Apple so pipe down.

Yes we do...but I didn't say fact...I said "it has been claimed". So pipe down....and read thoroughly before commenting

Why can't microsoft develop Cortana for Non-English Languages as well?? They should've started this right from the beginning of the cortana development.. i can't imagine it being so hard in other languages if they can do it in english..

If not that, they can atleast try and make it more usable for non-native english speakers such as those found in India & Elsewhere...

I've seen Car manufacturers like Ford optimize their Sync Voice Control System for Indian Accents.. if they can do it, MS sure can??

I Know!! That makes it all the more strange.. If they can deliver a working feature in a car (Granted, it is very limited in scope and functionality compared to a smartphone voice activated assistant) they can surely spend some effort and money into making cortana usable and relevant across the world.. not just the US.

with offices around the world and a g;obal workforce, it wont even be hard for them to test the system out on various languages internally in the company itself without having to release a beta.

 

 

I'd rather wish that Cortana would understand ANY "English":
en-au, en-ca, en-eg, en-hk, en-in, en-ie, en-nz, en-sa, en-sg, en-za, en-gb, en-us
Chinese speaking English *(or Nigerian) might be too much to ask before Windows 11
 

But for those of us that have played Halo (and there are millions) it's the greatest Voice AI name ever. Even if you haven't, Cortana does sound like a cool AI name.

An average consumer (and there are millions) doesn't know what Siri stands for, so it has as much meaning as Cortana to non-Halo consumers

Count me second... Hopefully people all around the world will be able to enjoy full "Cortana-experience"!

Its not even that. If this app really is (would be) in beta form, then why not try to get the highest possible number of beta users? Leave TellMe there as the default and allow users to use this app. Surely more usage, and therefor usage data, could be nothing but good for a product like this.

Non us country cannot enjoy the "cortarna" services for a single period? Why just push this out for the entire world ? It is kind of stupid thinking .

Guess who's not surprised but still disappointed on these f&*ck US only. The coolest thing to come to WP and guess what? More than the half of total WP users will not play with it.

Damn I want to apologize and say you are right but this is AMERICA!
Maybe you'll get "Corinna or Lupe" the Spanish version of CORTANA!

I live here  and I'm not excited....netiher are all those Apple and Android minions. All that comes to mind about this is Meh...too late...Apple was first

You must know a lot of people to make that kind of claim. Siri is a gimmick, so if Apple was first to that, who cares?

Seriously mate not enough hugs as a kid? We get it you are over it, you have moved to android, so go already...

You must really be a megalomaniac to actually think you speak for "all those Apple and Android minions"!

No one has said, or even intimated that I'm aware of, that the 810 will not get GDR3.  Black may never come.  Or it may.  Depending on Nokia and/or T-mob. 

If you want update 3, just install it.  Here on WPC there is an article detailing the ~3 steps it takes to make it happen...

Yes, I'm aware (and have done) the workaround using a developer account for installing GDR3.  I would hardly call that an official release.  (I believe they even call it a "developer preview".)  Nokia's official update status page, that lists the Black update for the 810 as "Not available", certainly suggests to me that I'm out of luck.

That could mean that it's never coming and you're out of luck.  Or it could mean that testing hasn't started yet.  Or could mean that they are unsure.  Or it could be that Nokia built it but T-Mobile doesn't care to ever test.  No one really knows.  It's all speculation at this point. 

And the gdr3 you get from the beta program is newer than released builds on other phones so while not official, I don't know why that would concern you.  Especially on your potentially no longer supported device...

Yes, Black is listed as "not available" for the 810. But that is not to say that it won't be available at all. It will probably be made available together with the 8.1. It's a similar situation with GDR2 which was not available for some 8X/8S phones but will be made available together with GDR3 for those same phones.

It will probably be made available with 8.1. They could have skipped Black now but include it in a later update (8.1) so T-Mobile could save on testing cost for what probably are a few users of 810. The carriers unfortunately make the ultimate decision what updates to push.

You have to understand too that Siris voice was recorded something like 6 years before it was revealed and no telling how long Apple was working on it before that. If Microsoft gets it done in a couple years then that's quite an accomplishment compared to Apple.

Apple did not originate Siri. It was developed by an independent company called Siri, Inc. Back then, Siri announced they would also make the app available not only for iPhones but also BB and Android devices. But Apple bought them in 2010 so all work on the app for BB and Android stopped.

You are correct. My point was, and should have been more clear, Siri was years in the making. It wasn't just overnight and poof, there is Siri. People are complaining that Microsoft is too slow.... But WP is a toddler OS and still has alot of growing to be on par with the likes of iPhone and Android. Just boils down to people being overly impatient. Reminds me of children at Toys R Us.

You think Siri was created faster than that? Research it and see if its really as awful as you think that it might take Microsoft 2 years.

Seriously as a regular customer (not a techie or anything) I don't care how much apple took I care that right now apple customers have it for years and we are waiting 2 more years to get smth like it. MS built a great OS for phones but the development is slow its like watching your own kid grow.

What? Way more easily what?

Either way, I disagree. Bing is a fine brand, but it is still #2 to google and it will be thought of as a knockoff of google now, even if that isn't the case.

Cortana or the future name will be a brand new brand and leave people intrigued.

I bet AT&T removes Cortana from the build when they realize it competes with their own future, half-baked U-verse voice assistant app. ;)

Hopefully they'll be able to call it Cortana, but even if not I still hope they can get Jen to do the voice.

i really don't get how people get excited about something like this.

do you guys REALLY talk to your phone?

i dont need such useless things (at least for me its useless) and dont want to look stupid. and ive never seen anyone talking to his phone, and if i do, i'd think he's a weirdo

I talk to my console. I mean times change and people change. If we stayed complacent, technology would never progress

Have you ever had dirty hands and needed to answer the phone, or maybe call someone to ask advice and can't take the time to wash your hands? Ever have your hands otherwise occupied such that holding a phone isn't convenient? Get in a situation like that and voice control becomes useful.

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