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At the annual Build conference in San Francisco, Microsoft Corporation (MSFT - Analyst Report) unveiled a voice assistant feature for Windows Phone to gain traction in a highly competitive smartphone market.

Microsoft’s new voice-activated phone assistant feature — Cortana — will be included in the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update. The service will be able to take verbal instructions to search for information, set alarms, take calls, make calendar entries and a host of other actions.

The company stated that Cortana is in the "beta" test mode and is expected to be formally launched by the second half of this year.

With the launch of features like Cortana, Microsoft plans to increase its efforts to spread out the use of Windows Phone to many more devices. Also, Microsoft aims at competing against other voice-activated digital assistants such as Apple’s (AAPL - Analyst Report) Siri and Google’s Google Now. Like Google Now, Cortana can tap into apps as well as the phone's core services to deliver contextual information. It can offer localized weather reports, favorite sports scores, scan email and provide updates on a flight status or package delivery.

Apart from this, Microsoft plans to release Office for iPad and a new 2014 edition of Office for Mac this year. Also, the company announced its plans to offer Windows for free on phones, tablets and other consumer devices. Microsoft will release a new version of its Kinect — created for the Xbox One — for Windows PCs.

All these changes are expected to help Microsoft stay afloat in a rapidly changing technology market. Like other PC makers, Microsoft’s main business of making software for PCs is witnessing sagging demand. Also, Microsoft’s touch-based operating system, Windows 8, launched in 2012 failed to provide the much needed boost to the PC market. Therefore, the software company has decided to launch Windows 8.1 — an upgraded version of its operating system — to address the issues regarding the earlier version.

On the contrary, Google's Android and Apple's iOS have become widely popular among other consumer electronics devices.

Microsoft is still one of the best positioned software vendors, however, the new CEO, Satya Nadella, has to explore newer ways to recover from the current situation.

Currently, Microsoft has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Another stock that offers a lucrative investment option currently is Dealertrack Technologies, Inc. (TRAK - Snapshot Report), sporting a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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