A few months ago, Amazon and Microsoft said their respective digital assistants, Alexa and Cortana, would begin talking to each other. Now the calendar has turned to 2018, and we’re still waiting for the introduction.
As first noted by Thurrott, Amazon and Microsoft have yet to roll out integrations between the two digital assistants. We reached out to the two companies to find out more. Microsoft told us they’ll have “more to share soon.” and Amazon did not respond. Amazon told Thurrott that “we’re working on it and expect to begin rolling it out soon.”
The plan focuses on letting each voice assistant leverage the unique capabilities of the other. Long-term, the goal is a deep integration in which each assistant simply knows to use the other for a specific task, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in an interview with The New York Times in August.
The integration between the two voice assistants will begin by requiring users to specifically “open” the other. For example, Windows 10 users will say, “Cortana, open Alexa,” and Echo users will say, “Alexa, open Cortana.” Then they can use Cortana (via Alexa) to set a reminder or read work email, or use Alexa (via Cortana) to control smart home devices or shop on Amazon.
The connection will start on Windows 10 and Echo devices before expanding to link Cortana and Alexa on Android and iOS, said Andrew Shuman, corporate vice president of Cortana engineering, in a Microsoft post.
After starting out in different universes — Microsoft on PCs and Amazon in e-commerce — the two companies have become increasingly competitive in recent years, especially in the public cloud, where Microsoft’s Azure is going after market leader Amazon Web Services. Those cloud initiatives are closely linked to the artificial intelligence efforts of each company, with the voice assistants serving as key AI interfaces.
Amazon and Microsoft have since teamed up on another initiative, an open-source deep learning interface called Gluon, jointly created by the companies to let developers “prototype, build, train and deploy sophisticated machine learning models for the cloud, devices at the edge and mobile apps.”
Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talked about collaborating at Microsoft’s CEO Summit back in 2016, and executives acknowledged after the Alexa-Cortana announcement the possibility of future partnerships. While Amazon and Microsoft find themselves competing in several areas, under Nadella, Microsoft has made a point of partnering strategically with its rivals.
“Amazon is a very impressive company,” said Nadella at the GeekWire Summit in October. “What Jeff and his team have done is something that I’ve long admired, and I think there’s a lot that we can learn. In fact, the good news is that between Microsoft and Amazon, we have a lot of cross-pollination of talent, and I think it’s helpful for this region, by the way, which is something that Silicon Valley always had.”
Amazon’s relationship with Microsoft, despite competing in some areas, stands in contrast to its standing with other tech giants. Amazon is in the midst of a dispute with Google that has seen the search giant remove YouTube from Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick devices. Amazon has in recent months began thawing an icy relationship with Apple, restoring Apple TV devices to its online store, two years after removing them. And Amazon Prime Video recently popped up on Apple TV.