Eric Hal Schwartz on June 8, 2021 at 2:00 pm
Microsoft rolled out new voice features for the Outlook mobile app on Tuesday, allowing users to set up meetings, compose emails, and search through the app using Cortana. The new voice commands are available in iOS, with plans to do the same for Android soon.
Outlook’s voice mode alerts Cortana about incoming commands. The plus sign icon in Outlook for starting an email or arranging an event now has “use voice” in the menu, which activates the smartphone’s microphone and awakens Cortana.Users can ask Cortana questions about what their next meeting is, find out any information contained in the emails, contacts, and calendar. Cortana uses Microsoft Graph to personalize its responses so that queries can use natural language. Cortana can infer based on keywords and first names what it is being asked. Similarly, Cortana can schedule meetings, setting a time and filling in the guest list from conversational language. Users can check the resulting message or event plan, then tell the voice assistant to send the invites. Microsoft is also upgrading the mobile version of Outlook with the option to dictate messages and emails. Dictation was limited to the desktop version of Outlook until now.
“At Microsoft, we’re investing in voice capabilities that transcend the challenges of small screens and tiny keyboards to help people communicate and manage tasks when they’re working on the go,” Microsoft 365 corporate vice president Jared Spataro explained in a blog post. “We’re powering these capabilities with Microsoft Graph, which aggregates and organizes billions of signals across your organization as people work in Microsoft 365 all day. And the true magic happens when we layer AI on top of the Graph to get really valuable insights, so that when you use your voice to do things like request “the 2022 budget report” or “email Kim’s boss” the correct document or name appears in a snap.”
Cortana reemerged last year during a major update to Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft started adding voice controls to Outlook in the fall,?sans the Cortana branding. Early this year, Microsoft announced plans for Cortana features on Outlook, Teams, Lens, and Office. With Lens, that means handwriting transcription that turns images of writing into text. According to Microsoft, the need for voice controls and dictation in Outlook’s mobile format has risen enormously over the last year. The company’s Work Trend Index annual report found 40.6 billion more emails sent in February this year compared to 2020.
“This digital intensity shows no signs of slowing,” Spataro wrote. “And as regions around the world open up and move from a remote model to a hybrid with people working together across a wide range of scenarios—remote, onsite, and on the go—it’s critical that we find new ways to help people connect and get tasks done on mobile devices with experiences that help you be as productive as you are on your PC, but are designed for the unique capabilities and limitations of a mobile device.”
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Eric Hal Schwartz
Eric Hal Schwartz is a Staff Writer and Podcast Producer for Voicebot.AI. Eric has been a professional writer and editor for more than a dozen years, specializing in the stories of how science and technology intersect with business and society. Eric is based in New York City.