Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa are finally talking, fulfilling a groundbreaking promise made last year to bring the rival digital assistants together.
Microsoft and Amazon officials shared the stage at the Microsoft Build developer conference in a historic moment between the Seattle area’s two signature tech giants and two of the biggest tech companies in the world. They demonstrated the first of what they say will be many integrations between Alexa and Cortana.
“We want to make it possible for our customers to get the most out of their personal assistants, not be bound to a single one,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at Build. “So we’ve been working with our friends across the lake at Amazon to really bring Alexa and Cortana together to benefit every developer and user.”
Megan Saunders, a Microsoft general manager, was joined by Amazon Alexa Senior Vice President Tom Taylor. Saunders, from her “home” on the stage, opened up Alexa on her Amazon Echo smart speaker and added to her grocery list. Then she called up Cortana by saying, “Alexa, open Cortana” and had Microsoft’s digital assistant run through her calendar and send an email.
Taylor, from his “office” opened Cortana on his PC to get directions to a Seattle restaurant referenced in an email. Then he asked Cortana to open Alexa, and Amazon’s assistant responded “Hi there, this is Alexa, how can I help.” Taylor then booked a ride through Uber to his destination.
Saunders said the integrations are only available in limited beta testing for now, but there is a new website where people can sign up for updates. But these conversations are the first of many between the two digital assistants.
“This is the first step in a longer journey as intelligent friends in both the real and ambient world,” Saunders said.
The surprise partnership was announced last summer, with a goal of getting the two digital assistants on the same page by the end of the year. That deadline came and went, with the companies promising they would have something to show “soon.”
Though Alexa has grabbed the early lead in the competitive digital assistant market — which also includes the Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri and more — Amazon doesn’t expect to perfect the technology alone. Both Amazon and Microsoft see a future of digital assistants cooperating to take advantage of what each one does best.
“We believe voice will make customers’ lives easier at home, at work and everywhere in between,” Taylor said. “We share a vision that there will be many intelligent agents working together to provide customers with a more helpful experience.”
The seed for this collaboration was planted 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.