Cortana for Windows Phone 8.1: Top 7 Business Features
Cortana is compatible with all Windows Phone 8 devices. / Credit: Nokia

You don’t need to hire a personal assistant to get a little help running your business. Cortana for Windows Phone is a digital assistant that can help you be more productive and do better work every day. The service debuted as part of Windows Phone 8.1, the latest update to Microsoft's mobile operating system. It was publicly released on April 14 and is scheduled to roll out automatically to all devices currently running Windows Phone 8 within a few months.

Cortana has a lot to offer business users. Like Siri and Google Now —  similar services available on iOS and Android devices, respectively —  Cortana can answer your questions and push alerts to you as they arrive. It can offer up all sorts of information, from custom news alerts to traffic notifications. And Cortana offers some things that those other services don’t, such as native integration with Microsoft’s OneNote note-taking software.

There are a few ways to access Cortana. To perform a search — either by typing or by issuing a voice command — tap the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of your Windows Phone display. Alternatively, you can view your Cortana feed, including alerts and relevant news, by tapping the Cortana tile, which appears on your home screen as a pulsing circle icon. Read on for six ways the service can make you more productive.

Commute notifications

Cortana can help ensure your commute isn’t any longer than it has to be. Once it’s learned where your home and work locations are — tap Places in Cortana’s settings menu to enter them manually —  the service can provide up-to-date traffic notifications using information provided via Bing Maps, alerting you to traffic delays before you leave for work in the morning or head home in the evening. That way you can notify employees or family members that you might be late, or take an alternate route.

Location-based reminders

The Windows Phone calendar application already can handle simple reminders; once you enter an appointment, you’ll receive an alert when the date and time approach. Cortana makes setting reminders easier with the help of voice commands and offers an added bonus: The service can use your phone's built-in GPS sensor to remind you when you're near a specific location. For example, you can say: “Remind me to check my email when I get home,” and — assuming you’ve already told Cortana where “home” is — the service will do just that.

News alerts

Staying on top of industry news can help you run a top-notch business. But digging through the news each day for relevant stories is time consuming. Instead, Cortana can pull in stories you might care about and present them in the main feed. First, you’ll need to tell the service what topics you’re interested in; to do that, just tap News in Cortana’s settings menu. Alternatively, perform a Web search using Cortana and tap “Update me on this news topic.” Once Cortana has gotten to know you a bit, it can automatically show you stories you want to see before you search for them.

Weather updates

Unexpected weather events can hinder your business plans by extending travel times, slowing sales or causing your flight to be delayed. Cortana can help by offering automated weather alertsto ensure you’ll never be caught off guard by a severe storm. Alerts will appear in the Action Center in Windows Phone 8.1; just swipe down from the top of your screen to view the details. You can also check the weather for your area manually simply by viewing your Cortana feed, which shows a five-day forecast by default.

Voice commands

Instead of typing in your query, tell Cortana exactly what you want using voice commands; just tap the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of your Windows Phone display, then tap the microphone. This functionality lets you speak to perform Web searches, set a calendar appointment or reminder, or navigate to a specific location using Bing Maps. You can also respond to an email, send a text message or dial for a hands-free phone call. Hit More in Cortana’s settings menu to view a full list of available voice commands. Unlike Siri and Google Now, Cortana is integrated with many apps, so you can use voice commands to perform app-specific actions. This functionality could help you make a hands-free post to your business’s Twitter account, for example.

Quiet times

Having your phone beep or buzz during a business meeting is embarrassing and disruptive. Cortana lets you set quiet times, during which your phone will automatically be silenced. That way you can stay focused during daily meetings. Just tap Quiet Times in Cortana’s settings menu to specify times. You can also add individual contacts, such as employees, colleagues or family members, to your “inner circle.” If someone on this list tries to contact you during quiet times, the individual's message or call will still come through.

OneNote integration

OneNote is a note-taking application from Microsoft that helps you store and organize notes across all your devices. Cortana integrates with the software, allowing you to add items to your OneNote account using voice commands. Just tap the microphone and say, “take a note,” then state your note. Once you’ve confirmed the note is correct, it will be synced across your other Windows devices, including phones, tablets and desktop computers. You’ll be able to view the transcribed text of the note or listen to the recorded audio.