Relative to our American cousins, us Aussies speak a little queer. We have odd words for things (dunny, prawns, budgie smugglers) and we say things a little strangely (aluminium, caramel, herbs) so it was not too surprising when the USA got Cortana but Australia did not. However, it has been nine months now and there is still no sign of it coming. So I thought I would show you how to get Cortana on your Windows phone even if you think thongs go on your feet and not in your pants.
In my case, I have a Lumia 925, the small brother to the one with the crazy powerful camera. It is running Windows Phone 8.1 and I am on the Optus network. According to the update service I am up to date.
Tricking the Settings
It used to be the case that you had to install developer software to get Cortana, but this is no longer the case and after adjusting a few settings you will be ready to go. The thing is, Cortana is waiting in the wings on your Windows Phone so it is not hard to get it working. Firstly, go to Settings – Language. You will need to set this to English (United States). Press and hold for more options. For the region options, the Country/Region needs to be the United States and the Regional Format needs to be English (Australia). For the speech options. Set the speech language to English (United States).
The regional format being set to English (Australia) is a cosmetic change which means phone numbers do not appear in the US format (###) ###-####, which just looks weird for our numbers.
Once you set these settings and reboot, when it tells you to, Cortana will be ready to go. To launch her, press the search button and you will see Cortana peering back (she is the blue circle).
You can type questions or hit the microphone icon and ask your questions.
How does Cortana handle Strine?
For the most part, Cortana deals with the nasal twang that is ‘Austrayan English’ quite well. Asking fun questions like “what does the <x> say?” worked fine for all except ‘horse’. For some reason, unless I affected a more American accent, it got it wrong every time.
For myself, the speech aspects of Cortana are of limited use and the novelty of asking about the noises of various animals soon wears off (it will tell you jokes and knock knock jokes which will make you smile though) but where I really get value is in it bringing the information in my phone together.
When you fire up the Cortana app, it will display a consolidated list of stuff you want to see. It is like your own personal newspaper including the weather, your appointments and the latest news (configured to your preferences). Some of the measures are in imperial units e.g. miles but, for the most part, it is fine. Also, it will begin to notice the locations you often go to and ask for names e.g. home, work, bar etc.
After a while, it will begin to learn your movements and give you warning if there is traffic on the way home from work as well as looking in your calendar and telling you when you need to leave to make your meetings.
While this may sound creepy, it is not, it is really useful. If you think about it, this is a really sophisticated bit of software. It is looking at where you are, looking at where you are going (either by habit and GPS or by calendar appointment and Bing maps) and then sourcing information on traffic to predict how long the journey will take. When the time is right, up pops Cortana to let you know it is time to move.
The only downside I have found so far is I cannot figure out how to get Cortana to read QR codes. If anyone knows how, please leave a comment.
These days, getting Cortana on your Windows Phone is really easy and the value it adds, while not necessarily life-changing, is still very useful. What is more, if you do not like what it does, it is very easy to put the language and region settings back and return to how things were. My thinking is give it a bash and see how it goes.