Microsoft’s Cortana meets an untimely end on iOS and Android

Extreme close-up photograph of smartphone against a white background.
Cortana on an iPhone.

Microsoft’s Cortana app for iOS and Android will soon shut down, the company has announced on a support page. This effectively puts a nail in Cortana’s coffin for consumer use cases, at least as far as competing directly with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa goes.

Here’s what the announcement says:

We will soon be ending support for the Cortana app on Android and iOS, as Cortana continues its evolution as a productivity assistant.

As of March 31, 2021, the Cortana content you created—such as reminders and lists—will no longer function in the Cortana mobile app, but can still be accessed through Cortana in Windows. Also, Cortana reminders, lists, and tasks are automatically synced to the Microsoft To Do app, which you can download to your phone for free.

After March 31, 2021, the Cortana mobile app on your phone will no longer be supported.

This is no surprise. Microsoft had already begun deprecating Cortana on mobile in certain markets, and the writing seemed to be on the wall when the company announced that many of Cortana’s consumer-focused skills would be getting the axe about a year ago.

Support for third-party skills has ended, and the one and only smart speaker on the market to support Cortana pulled the plug on functionality related to Microsoft’s assistant earlier this month.

Microsoft announced the change coming to the mobile apps back in July.

This is not the end of Cortana, however; Microsoft is just backing out of every area where Cortana wasn’t gaining traction against competitors like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. But Cortana is still heavily integrated into Microsoft 365 in several ways; you can think of Cortana as the modern-day, much smarter equivalent of Clippy, in a way.

A few years ago (not that long ago at all, actually) the smart-assistant craze began sweeping consumer electronics, and numerous large companies attempted to get their own assistants out there, from Google to Amazon, LG, Samsung, Microsoft, and Apple.

Most of this was driven by smart speakers and some features on mobile devices, though the expansion of the smart home category played a part, too. But there was no way all of these smart assistant offerings were going to survive; consolidation was inevitable.

Among other things, that’s because it’s an onerous burden for the numerous smaller tech companies to include support for all the myriad assistants in their hardware and software products. Over the past few years, Google and Amazon have achieved shared dominance in this wide-open space, with Apple’s Siri filling a narrower role on certain devices.

Remember Bixby?

Like Samsung’s Bixby (which still exists but isn’t exactly making waves), Microsoft’s Cortana just couldn’t compete. And at least on the surface, that’s too bad—it was hard not to root for the one with the audacity to be named after a character from the video game Halo, after all.

Today, Google Assistant and/or Amazon Alexa can be found in a huge number of personal electronics products in some form or another. And while Apple’s Siri hasn’t made the same impact across the entire ecosystem, it has a massive install base in Apple’s own products, and usage statistics suggest that users are leaning heavily on the assistant.

Meanwhile, you can (at least for the immediately foreseeable future) still find Cortana hanging out inside Microsoft Office, answering your basic queries like a chat bot.