Amazon.com and Microsoft have officially set up the friendship between their two voice assistants, Alexa and Cortana, a year after announcing the partnership to expand the reach and abilities of the competing assistants.
But how does this relationship of rivals work? The voice assistants will only be used to “wake” the other one up. In other words, customers have to say either “Cortana, open Alexa” or “Alexa, open Cortana.” From there, people can talk to the other assistant as usual.
The integration is available through Echo devices, Windows 10 devices and Microsoft’s Harman Kardon Cortana speaker. Someone with an Alexa-powered speaker, for example, can open Cortana to check for new emails in Outlook or set up appointments for their calendar. It’s also possible to ask Alexa through your Window PC to flip on your lights or check your order status.
(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)
Voice-assisted devices have been a major focus for Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Samsung, as a vehicle to touch every part of their customers' lives and use that broad reach as a way to learn about people’s habits and make their products indispensable.
Each has gone about this in a slightly different way. Google has leveraged its strengths as a search engine and the maker of the Android operating system to respond easily to questions and follow a person throughout their day. Apple, with Siri, has put the device in fewer products but has focused on quality — it frames its own HomePod speaker as the best smart speaker for audio. Samsung, which introduced its first smart speaker last week, has tried to give its Bixby voice assistant unique functions and linked it with its vision-recognition technology.
The partnership between Microsoft and Amazon links two assistants that have complementary strengths, said analyst Werner Goertz of research firm Gartner. Amazon, through Alexa, is the clear leader in the smart speaker market and has an extensive understanding of the way people shop and use their appliances around the house. With 44 percent of the smart speaker market, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics, it has courted developers to make thousands of skills for its platform.
Microsoft’s Cortana has a negligible reach through speakers, but is a part of Windows 10 and has deep integration with Office software used at the workplace.
The two assistants won’t have access to each others' data, according to statements from both companies Wednesday. Data collected from each assistant will be controlled by their respective companies — and covered by their corresponding privacy policies. In essence, they’ll refer users to one another rather than sharing their duties.
More integration is coming down the line, Amazon said in a blog post. Certain features such as streaming music, listening to audio books or hearing Alexa’s flash briefing “will not be available immediately,” the company said.
Both companies have said the integration will be limited at first. It is only live in the United States, and in English.