Alexa and Cortana will be going to the dance together.
On Wednesday, Amazon and Microsoft announced a first-of-its kind collaboration between the one-time rival digital assistants that will begin in earnest later this year.
Owners of Amazon’s popular Alexa-driven Echo speakers will be able to say, “Alexa, open Cortana.” Folks with Windows 10 devices will be able to similarly ask Cortana to open Alexa.
The tech companies are trying to leverage each of the digital assistants’ respective strengths, which will let you use the convenience of voice in more ways both at home and in the workplace.
For example, as an Alexa customer you might ask Cortana out loud to update your calendar inside Microsoft Office or to read aloud an email. Cortana users in turn can summon Alexa to shop inside Amazon, control smart home devices and otherwise tap into an Alexa “skills” set that numbers more than 20,000.
In a press release issued by Amazon, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that “ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us. Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”
His counterpart at Amazon Jeff Bezos said, that “the world is big and so multifaceted. There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience. It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana.”
Just how deep and smooth the integration turns out to be in practice remains to be seen. For now, the other major digital assistants, Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant will remain independent of Alexa, Cortana and each other.
But back in June, Amazon's Dave Limp expressed interest in having Alexa work with both Siri and Google Assistant. "If Apple or Google want to come calling, my phone number is out there," he said at the time. "I don't know if I can envision it, but I hope it will happen on behalf of customers."
With its Alexa-infused Echo speakers, Amazon deserve the lion's share of the credit for popularizing the use of voice in the home. Google of course eventually took on Echo with its own Google Home speaker. And fresh competition will soon arrive from Apple's HomePad and from Microsoft via the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker.
But all the players have designs on expanding voice well beyond AI-infused speakers and computers, and into all sorts of household appliances and gadgets, from washing machines to thermostats.
For example, at the IFA tech conference in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, Google announced not only new speakers with a baked in Google Assistant (including models from Anker, Mobvoi and Panasonic), but upcoming vacuums and washers from makers such as LG Electronics. You'll be able to use your voice to ask, "OK, Google, Are my clothes clean?"
Google says it is working with more than 70 smart home partners and that the Google Assistant is already available on more than 100 million devices.
Whirlpool is among the other appliance manufacturers that has previously announced support for both Alexa and Google Assistant.
Samsung has its own ambitions in the vocal assistant space, including eventually inside the company's appliances.But its virtual voice, Bixby, which debuted earlier this year on the Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones, has gotten off to a rough start.
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