When Microsoft announced a new skills kit for Cortana alongside the Echo-like Harman Kardon Invoke smart home speaker, we figured Cortana was getting ready to step all over Alexa’s turf. Today, it looks like that’s not necessarily the case. Amazon and Microsoft have made a joint announcement that Alexa and Cortana will now be able to communicate with each other, filling in the gaps in functionality that both have.
While the implementation will be a little clunky at first, this should be genuinely useful for users. Sometime later this year, users will be able to say ‘Hey Alexa, open Cortana’ or ‘Hey Cortana, open Alexa’ to access the other voice assistant. That will enable users to issue commands to Cortana from an Amazon Echo speaker or commands to Alexa from a Windows PC.
That’s pretty cool, because Alexa and Cortana are still more complementary than they are competitive. Alexa is most adept at controlling smart home devices and performing third party skills like delivering weather information or, more importantly, pizza. Alexa isn’t really useful for creating calendar events, setting reminders, or doing online searches, which is more Cortana’s thing. Now that they can talk to each other, users of both voice assistants can make any command they need to make from any device they own — it’s a small convenience, but it’s a free one and there’s no downside.
A New York Times report sheds a bit more light on the thinking of the two CEOs involved in the partnership, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Bezos acknowledges that having to tell Cortana to open Alexa before issuing a command is clunky, and says that he sees a future where the assistants are smart enough to delegate the right task to the right program without the user having to specify.
Bezos and Nadella also gave some light encouragement to Apple and Google to be more open with their assistants, Siri and Google Assistant, with Nadella saying of the partnership, “Hopefully, they’ll be inspired by it.” We wouldn’t hold our breath — Apple is notoriously closed off and extremely unlikely to reverse course. Google has historically been more open, and Google Assistant certainly does have the same gaps that Cortana suffers from — they’d be more likely to join up, but it’s still unlikely. Then again, this Amazon-Microsoft partnership would’ve been considered unlikely before today, so who knows?