Microsoft is making voice a much more significant part of the Outlook experience. Starting with the iOS version of the software (with Android to follow), you can use your voice to dictate emails, schedule meetings and conduct searches.
To access Outlook’s new capabilities, tap the plus icon floating above the app’s main navigation bar and then press the “Use Voice” prompt. You can ask Cortana things like “When’s my next team meeting?” or for more complex requests like “Set up a meeting with Jill and her team for next Monday about the Q1 budget.” When you’re scheduling an event, you can also ask the assistant to add specific individuals to the invite. It’s even possible to use Cortana to add attachments to your emails, and the speech-to-text tool allows you to both respond to emails and write new ones.
Powering a lot of the functionality is Microsoft’s Graph tool, which provides the assistant with context when it needs it. That information allows Cortana to do things like spell the names of your co-workers correctly when you mention them in an email.
Alongside the voice addition, Microsoft is also launching a separate Scheduler Microsoft 365 service today. It’s designed for Microsoft 365 administrators to enable as a backend service that helps schedule meetings. It plugs into Cortana to allow users to set up meetings using just email replies. You can reply to a colleague confirming a meeting and simply write “Cortana, please find a time to meet next week,” and Scheduler should find the most appropriate time and arrange the meeting.
Scheduler is part of a bigger push by Microsoft to reposition Cortana as a productivity assistant. Microsoft first launched Cortana for iOS and Android in December 2015, and the company shut down the app earlier this year. The closure came after Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella previously recognized the company’s difficulties competing with other digital assistants, revealing in 2019 that Microsoft no longer saw Cortana as a competitor to Alexa and Google Assistant.