In a bizarre twist that few saw coming, news has started to filter through that Microsoft and Amazon are allowing their digital assistant’s, Cortana and Alexa, to work together in a limited capacity (at first). This may strike you as a little strange, in today’s world most tech companies are holding on to their own particular sets of skills like a mother clutching her newborn child. Yet, it does actually make sense, at least for Microsoft and Amazon anyway.
Amazon, having what is the world’s most widely used digital assistant in the home, would usually be in a position to rebuff the advances of any other company who comes crawling to them while looking for a slice of the pie. But with Microsoft, the offer on the table is actually one that can substantially benefit both companies. While Amazon Echoes and Dots have forced their way into the hearts and homes of many consumers (thanks to the relatively low price point and ease of use), the usefulness of these home hubs can quickly diminish once you have exhausted the main set of skills that Amazon currently provides. Microsoft and Cortana on the other hand, don’t have as many useful ‘everyday skills” as Alexa, but they do have access to Office and Outlook integration. This, could be extremely useful for many of their customers, seeing as Google Home (and Apple’s upcoming smart speaker) seems to be lacking this right now. How this integration will work however, might prove a little cumbersome at the beginning.
Manual switching for now
To access Cortana from an Amazon device, user’s will have to ask “Alexa, open Cortana”, and from a Microsoft device, the opposite is true. While this may take a little getting used to, eventually both companies see the integration becoming seamless, and in essence asking Alexa to check your business calendar will not require a switch to Cortana within the device. For now though, switching between the two assistants needs to be forced manually. When Amazon’s head Jeff Bezos was asked whether we will always need to switch between the assistants ourselves, or perhaps we could eventually rely on each assistant doing that for us, he replied “In my view of the world, because that would be best for the customer, that’s probably what eventually happens,” How long this will take to implement is anyone’s guess, but it is reassuring to know that it is on the road map.
So are we likely to see this sort of integration happening elsewhere? Nobody truly knows the answer to that at the moment. Amazon have yet to reach out to either Google or Apple, but it is something they say they are interested in. However, Google and Apple may not wish to open their systems up to the likes of Amazon or Microsoft, mainly because both companies have invested hugely in their digital assistants, and see them as big selling points for their devices. Google arguably lead the race in the quality stakes (and as such are under no pressure to join forces with anyone), and Apple rarely allow their services to run on other systems anyway, so don’t get too carried away with the idea of addressing your Echo as “Siri”.
A useful union
So, if the two mobile OS leaders have no interest in cozying up to anyone else, what makes Microsoft and Amazon think it is a good idea? Well, for starters they actually complement each other quite well. Microsoft, with their disastrous attempt at gaining a foothold in the mobile world, also have very little traction in home automation or IOT in general. partnering with Amazon allows them to put one foot firmly in the smart home world, without even building a device. Amazon on the other hand, gains the ability to interact with the most popular work based applications in the world.
While it may take a while for users to get used to the idea of using Alexa on Windows 10, or Cortana on an Echo, this useful little crossover has the ability to create some seriously compelling reasons that could help customers stay away from their biggest rivals, and in essence defend both Microsoft and Amazon against future product launches from Google (an upcoming Dot competitor is rumored to be in the works) and Apple’s new smart speaker, the Homepod. Time will tell as to whether the general populous will take to using both assistants on their devices, but either way it is an interesting move from the tech giants, and one we will be keeping a close eye on as new functionality develops.