Good­bye, Cor­tana: Mi­crosoft’s Javier Soltero leaves, putting the dig­i­tal as­sis­tant’s fu­ture in doubt

Ama­zon Alexa and Google As­sis­tant have leapt far ahead of Cor­tana, which may be why Javier Soltero de­cided to pull up stakes.

PCWorld (USA) - - News - BY MARK HACH­MAN

Javier Soltero, who briefly led the devel­op­ment of Mi­crosoft’s Cor­tana dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, plans to leave the com­pany, Soltero con­firmed on Novem­ber 6.

Soltero con­firmed his de­ci­sion via Twit­ter ( go.pc­world.com/wkfr) af­ter ZDNET re­ported the story ear­lier in the day ( go.pc­world.com/ jslv). Mi­crosoft rep­re­sen­ta­tives had not pre­vi­ously re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment, but con­firmed his de­par­ture af­ter Soltero’s Twit­ter mes­sage.

“I’ve made the de­ci­sion to leave Mi­crosoft,” Soltero wrote. “The past 4 years have been an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m hum­bled to have been a part of build­ing some­thing that 100M+

users de­pend on ev­ery day and grate­ful to have worked with some amaz­ing peo­ple.

“I am deeply op­ti­mistic that Mi­crosoft will con­tinue to grow by build­ing great prod­ucts for peo­ple around the world,” Soltero added. “I’m grate­ful to have learned so much about what it re­ally takes to have mas­sive scale suc­cess & look for­ward to putting these lessons to work on some­thing new.”

Soltero took over work on Cor­tana, one of the orig­i­nal dig­i­tal as­sis­tants, at a time when ri­vals Ama­zon Alexa and Google As­sis­tant ar­guably pulled way ahead in terms of prod­uct so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Soltero’s ap­point­ment was part of a ma­jor re­or­ga­ni­za­tion ( go. pc­world.com/skup) that saw Cor­tana shuf­fled un­der Ra­jesh Jha, as part of the Ex­pe­ri­ences and De­vices group. For his part, Soltero char­ac­ter­ized Cor­tana less as a true as­sis­tant, and more of a sit­u­a­tional tool which might pop up only when truly nec­es­sary, he said in an April in­ter­view ( go.pc­world.com/ncrt).

WHAT’S NEXT FOR COR­TANA?

It’s not clear who will over­see Cor­tana when Soltero leaves. (Soltero didn’t say ex­actly when he would leave Mi­crosoft; but ZDNET re­ported he would de­part by the end of the year.)

It does sound, how­ever, that Cor­tana—as an as­sis­tant—is be­ing de­moted to a rank-and­file em­ployee within Mi­crosoft’s AI group. In a state­ment, Mi­crosoft lumped in Cor­tana with other lan­guage and AI tech­nolo­gies.

“We are grate­ful for Javier’s im­pact and strate­gic lead­er­ship over the last four years at Mi­crosoft, and wish him well as he re­turns to his en­tre­pre­neur­ial roots,” a Mi­crosoft spokesper­son said in a state­ment. “Bring­ing to­gether all of our work in nat­u­ral lan­guage, in­tel­li­gence and as­sis­tance—in­clud­ing Cor­tana—en­ables us to in­no­vate faster for de­vel­op­ers, part­ners and cus­tomers.”

If that’s true, Mi­crosoft cer­tainly set the stage for down­grad­ing Cor­tana. Af­ter a cou­ple of years of work, Ama­zon’s Alexa was in­te­grated into Win­dows ( go.pc­world.com/ axct) as a Cor­tana “skill” in Novem­ber. Cor­tana is now also avail­able within Alexapow­ered de­vices like the Echo Dot.

Mi­crosoft’s lat­est Win­dows 10 Up­date, the Oc­to­ber 2018 Up­date, con­tained very lit­tle new within Win­dows spe­cific to Cor­tana. On the other hand, Mi­crosoft promised a new Cor­tana app for An­droid and IOS in con­junc­tion with the new Sur­face Head­phones ( go.pc­world.com/sfhd), and that app is now avail­able to An­droid de­vices.

Why this mat­ters: It ap­pears that Mi­crosoft may be shift­ing its pri­or­i­ties for Cor­tana, see­ing her as a ve­hi­cle for what she does—a con­ver­sa­tional in­ter­face for your cal­en­dar and other data—rather than what she orig­i­nally was: a dig­i­tal per­son­al­ity. There’s al­ways been a ten­sion within Mi­crosoft be­tween pro­duc­tiv­ity and per­son­al­ity, and it ap­pears the more prac­ti­cal side has won out.

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