Hey Cortana…no not you, the OTHER Cortana

Yesterday Microsoft released details on the next update for the Xbox One. One of the biggest and most anticipated announcements (for me anyway) was bringing Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, to the Xbox One.

Over the past years I’ve come to really appreciate voice commands. It took awhile to get through that awkward phase where I felt silly talking to a machine but I can’t even remember why it felt silly now. I use voice on the Xbox, on my phone, on our Amazon Echo in the kitchen, and on my computers. Not for everything, but for some things it just makes sense.

So for the most part I’m thrilled that Cortana is coming to the Xbox One. I have just one concern; apparently the trigger phase will be “Hey Cortana” instead of “Xbox.” Microsoft is doing this in order to offer a consistent user experience across devices, but this is one case where a consistent user experience could work against them.

The problem is that at any given moment, there may be as many as three Windows 10 devices in the same room as the Xbox One. My experience is that for voice commands to work they need to be always listening. If you have to press a button or something, you may as well not use them. So most of our Windows 10 devices are in ‘always listen’ mode in terms of Cortana.

For a laptop it’s possible to speak quietly so that when I say “Hey Cortana” only the machine in front of me ‘hears’ me, but the Xbox is across the room. When I say “Hey Cortana I want to play Forza” I’m sure the Xbox will fire up Forza for me, but will my laptop start up Forza Apex, too? Will Angela’s laptop tell her it can’t find a Forza title to play?

Dear Microsoft, your next Cortana update needs to make the system smart enough so we can set trigger names for each of our devices. (I should add that it may be they’ve already thought of this…I took my Xbox One out of the Preview program so I haven’t had any hands-on time with the new feature yet.) I should be able to say Hey Xbox to get something to happen on my Xbox, Hey Surface to get something to happen on my Surface tablet, and so on. Even better, let us set our own names. I’ll name my desktop Bert and my laptop Ernie and be able to trigger Cortana on only the device I want it to activate on.

Please don’t read this as bitching. I’m really happy Cortana is coming to the Xbox even with this one drawback. Right now the Xbox voice commands are way too rigid. I actually can’t say “Xbox play Forza” today. I have to say something like “Xbox, play Forza Motorsport 6” or whatever the official name of the game is. For this reason I don’t launch games via voice on the Xbox currently because it’s too fiddly. Once Cortana rolls out voice commands should feel a bit more conversational; I’m really looking forward to that.