Microsoft wants Cortana and Alexa to be friends. Is that cool or just awkward?

microsoft 365 windows build 2018 cortana and alexa demo at
Microsoft

After announcing an alliance with Amazon late last summer, Microsoft finally showed how its Cortana digital assistant will integrate with Alexa on stage at Build. There’s a lot to look forward to with Cortana and Alexa combining their digital powers, but Microsoft and Amazon still face an uphill battle in a mobile-centric world.

As Alexa and Cortana vie for attention from Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Samsung’s Bixby, Microsoft’s and Amazon’s combined strength is overshadowed by the challenge that neither company owns its own mobile operating system.

Although the demo on stage went without a hitch, the integration was far from seamless. In order to invoke Cortana on an Alexa-enabled Echo speaker, you’d have to talk to Alexa first and ask her to open Cortana. A similar command is necessary when you’re trying to use Alexa on a Windows 10 PC or a Harmon Kardon Invoke speaker where Cortana is housed. Once your command is stated, Cortana and Alexa appear to be good friends, allowing you access to your work calendar, home lighting controls, and other features.

Even though this integration may appear clunky, it’s even more difficult to access these assistants on a mobile platform. Apple and Samsung make it easy to access their digital assistants on mobile — you can press a button or use your voice to summon your assistant. Even though you can download Cortana and Alexa apps on iOS and Android, you won’t benefit with the same ease of use. Launching Cortana on iOS, for example, requires you to unlock your iPhone, find the app, and then open Cortana, creating a burden to entry. By owning its own ecosystem, Apple makes it very difficult for anyone to compete with Siri on the iPhone. The integration with Alexa is a good first step in helping Cortana compete with Google Assistant, but Microsoft must still convince users to do more work to use its solution on a smartphone, even if Cortana is the superior bet.

If you’re using Cortana or Alexa primarily at home or at the office, Microsoft and Amazon hope that the collective intelligence of this partnership will prove to be far superior to Siri, Bixby, and Google Assistant. Given that Cortana and Alexa excel at different tasks, the deal was initially conceived at combining the strengths of each. Alexa is more adept at digital commerce and smart home controls, for example, while Cortana’s integration with Office 365 makes her a natural in the office.

Just how warm is Alexa’s relationship with Cortana? When asked on stage, Alexa answered, “I like Cortana. We both have experience with light rings, although hers is more of a Halo.”

This is only the beginning of a (hopefully) beautiful digital friendship between the two ladies, but Microsoft did not announce a date for when this integration will go live for its 700 million Windows 10 customers. Instead, the company points to a signup page if you want to get news about the integration.