On Wednesday, August 30, Amazon and Microsoft announced a partnership that will see the two companies’ AI-powered assistants work together across devices, software, and core services.
In the coming months, you’ll be able to invoke Cortana on Alexa devices with the command, “Alexa, Open Cortana,” and pull up Cortana on Windows 10 computers with, “Cortana, Open Alexa.” But that’s just the start. Eventually, Alexa-powered Echo speakers, smartphone apps, and smartwatches will gain tight integration with Office 365, Outlook, and Exchange, and other Microsoft productivity platforms.
It’s the fruit of a year-long, behind-closed-doors effort, reports the New York Times. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos proposed integrating Alexa and Cortana in May to Microsoft chief Satya Nadella, who was receptive to the idea.
“The personality and expertise of each [assistant] will be such that if they interoperated, the user will get more out of it,” Nadella told the New York Times in a phone interview. “There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data with different specialized skill areas,” said Bezos in a statement. “Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience.”
The collaboration stands to benefit both companies. Amazon says Alexa has sold millions of Echo devices, which account for an estimated 70 percent of the market for smart speakers. And in August, the retailer announced that developers had contributed more than 20,000 skills, or third-party apps, to the Alexa platform. Those include food-ordering apps like Dominos and Grubhub, ridesharing apps like Lyft and Uber, and smart home platforms like Philips Hue, Logitech Harmony, and Samsung SmartThings.
Microsoft, meanwhile, says that there are 145 million active monthly users of Cortana through its Windows 10 operating system.
But the two incumbents face pressure from rivals like Google and Apple. Google recently launched Google Home, a voice-controlled smart speaker powered by its eponymous Google Assistant, and brought the Google Assistant to tens of millions of Android smartphones running Android 7.0 Nougat and newer. And Apple earlier this year unveiled the HomePod, a Siri-equipped home entertainment system that goes on sale in December.
Nadella told the New York Times that he’d welcome Google and Apple’s participation in a cross-voice assistant development effort. “Hopefully, they’ll be inspired by [what we’ve done with Alexa],” Mr. Nadella said. “At least that would be my hope.”