So the good news is that the Cortana iOS Beta is here. The bad news is that only 2,000 people get to test it out.
Windows Insiders were given the opportunity to sign up for the Cortana iOS Beta via a short survey at the start of November. The few lucky enough gain access have now received their email invitations to download Cortana. The iOS beta is only available to participants in either the USA or China, so if you did sign up but haven’t got the email yet, and you don’t live in either country, it’s safe to say you’re probably out of luck.
The limited access to the Cortana iOS Beta test, is however not the result of Microsoft’s handiwork. As far as trying to get new software into the Apple Store goes, Microsoft doesn’t get any special treatment.
Developing and launching core Windows apps such as Cortana for other platforms has been part of the “cloud first, mobile first,” direction Microsoft has been following for the last few years. A Beta version of Cortana is already available on Android and everyone can sign up to help test it.
The Cortana iOS Beta has been deployed on iOS using Apple TestFlight, Apple’s own delivery service for distributing most iOS apps and software during testing phases to iOS. While TestFlight has proven itself a very capable method for allowing users to test new apps, the downside is that it has a maximum limit of only, you guessed right, 2,000 users.
Limited numbers aside, the Cortana iOS Beta though does seem to be missing one or two of the more notable features compared to her Windows version. The Microsoft invitation for the lucky 2,000 reads:
“Cortana’s deep integration with Windows means that’s where she can really shine. So, while there are some features you’ll use on Windows that we don’t (yet) support on iOS phones (like saying “Hey Cortana” to wake her up), we’ve focused on making Cortana on iOS the perfect companion to your Windows experience.”
But because of the lack of the ‘Hey, Cortana,’ no hands feature, Cortana might not be the direct rival to Siri it was originally intended to be. Microsoft may struggle to overcome this particular obstacle due to the closed off nature of the iOS universe, unless they can find a way round the current impasse.
The official release of Cortana available to everyone is unlikely to surface in the Apple Store until sometime next year. Until then, Siri is still probably your best option.