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Cortana wants to be friends with Alexa and Google Assistant

Microsoft is changing course with its Cortana digital assistant. Rather than viewing popular digital assistants from Google and Amazon as competitors, Microsoft now sees them as potential friends for Cortana. This means that instead of competing against Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, Microsoft wants to turn Cortana from a stand-alone digital assistant into a skill that can be integrated and used on these services.

“You should be able to use it on Google Assistant; you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like how you use our apps on Android and iOS so that’s at least how we want to think about where it’ll go,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at a media event, as reported by The Verge.

A large part of this new strategy for Cortana was already shown off last year at Microsoft’s Build developer conference where Nadella and his team demoed how Cortana and Alexa moved from frenemies to friends. Microsoft showed that Cortana can be summoned from an Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo smart speaker to provide users with information connected to Microsoft’s 365 cloud services. Microsoft promoted the partnership at the time by highlighting that the two assistants can coexist to deliver what users need. In Cortana, users will be able to get a digital work assistant and Alexa can still play to her strength by delivering everything else.

“Cortana needs to be that skill for anybody who’s a Microsoft 365 subscriber,” Nadella explained of the change in strategy. By transforming Cortana from a stand-alone assistant to a valuable skill that can be accessed from competitor’s service, Microsoft is radically turning its digital assistant into a Trojan horse for its subscription cloud services.

This would allow Cortana to be more broadly available outside of Windows 10 devices, the GLAS connected thermostat, or Harmon Kardon’s Invoke smart speaker. As Cortana finds a home on more smart devices powered by Amazon’s Alexa and potentially by Google’s Assistant in the future, Microsoft will have an even larger audience to push the benefits of its Microsoft 365 connected cloud services. Now, Microsoft 365 customers who want a voice assistant to their information on the service won’t be limited to speakers that were built just for Cortana.

Although Microsoft announced Cortana’s integration with Amazon in 2018, it has not announced a timeline for when users can expect to use Cortana on Google Assistant. More recently, Microsoft has been experimenting with how Cortana functions on PCs by separating the digital assistant feature from Windows 10’s universal search in the taskbar.

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Chuong Nguyen
Silicon Valley-based technology reporter and Giants baseball fan who splits his time between Northern California and Southern…
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