Cortana, Microsoft's digital voice assistant named after that hologram lady from HALO, didn't exactly set the world on fire. Most Windows users I've seen treat it like an annoyance to be avoided, instead of an integral part of the system, as Google's Assistant and Apple's Siri have become. But based on its latest corporate purchase, Microsoft might be taking another stab at voice-powered interaction.
Microsoft announced this morning that it's buying Nuance, the makers of Dragon speech recognition software. It's paying $56 per share, a generous offer that makes it a $16 billion USD deal. Nuance's software forms the backbone of Apple's Siri tool, a crucial part of what's driven the software maker's corporate value higher and higher in recent years. Nuance and Microsoft have cooperated in the past on a number of B2B tools, so tying the knot in this relationship isn't a huge surprise.
Doubling down on Cortana doesn't seem like the immediate play here—the company killed the mobile version just a week ago. It might be more likely that Microsoft wants to sharpen its speech-to-text options across its entire stable of products: Windows, Office, Xbox. Microsoft's announcement says that it wants to build on Nuance's AI expertise and "deliver next-generation customer engagement and security solutions." Building parts of the Dragon system into Microsoft Word, on multiple platforms, would be an easy win, and continuing to license the software to Apple would be a lucrative get all on its own.
A previous version of this story said that Microsoft was rumored to purchase Nuance. The deal was closed as we were writing the article.