Cortana can now read emails out loud in Outlook for iOS

Microsoft is pushing ahead with plans to position Cortana as a personal productivity assistant in the office with new features announced at Ignite this week. 

While Cortana was initially launched as a consumer voice assistant to compete with the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, Microsoft has increasingly targeted it for duties in its portfolio of productivity tools.  With Play My Emails in Outlook for iOS, Cortana can now read emails aloud to users and update them on their work schedule, Microsoft said, offering a hands-free way to catch up on emails while on the go.

Cortana starts off with a summary of how many new emails a user has gotten in the past 24 hours, with an estimation of how long it will take to read them all. The AI assistant will also highlight any changes to their diary and potential schedule conflicts for that day, thanks to integration with Outlook’s Calendar app. 

In addition to reading the content of emails, Cortana will explain how long they’ve been sitting in a user’s inbox, and provide additional information such as identifying the sender or whether an email contains attachments, links and embedded files. 

Microsoft said that using Play My Emails is more like a conversation with a personal assistant than a basic conversion of email text to audio. Users say “Hey, Cortana” to interrupt the readout and give simple commands or to dictate an email response using the assistant’s natural voice and language recognition. It is also possible to skip messages, flag emails for later reading or archive them. 

Cortana in Outlook for iOS Microsoft

In addition to reading emails out load, Cortana can explain how long they’ve been in a user’s inbox  and provide additional information about each message.

“Accessing core productivity apps such as email and calendar using voice commands can have a significant impact in productivity and underlines how voice can redefine how we interact with technology,” said Raúl Castañón-Martínez, a senior analyst at 451 Research.