For two years since its inception, AI-powered digital assistant Alexa has seen Cortana as stark competition, but that will change later on Wednesday. Amazon and Microsoft have partnered to closely integrate Cortana with Alexa, giving the e-commerce company instant foothold in about 150 million Cortana-enabled Windows 10 computers, and the Redmond giant will get Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices.
The Microsoft–Amazon partnership will also enable Cortana to work with Alexa on a range of devices, the New York Times reported. Things are going to be a little weird initially, the report said. A user would have to say “Cortana, open Alexa,” and “Alexa, open Cortana,” for instance.
As part of the unusual partnership, the report cites Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to say Alexa will be able to work with Office products, a feature of Cortana that he particularly liked. Office products are popular with over one billion users. Office 365, the subscription-based productivity suite from Microsoft had more than 60 million users as of last year.
Amazon is open to the idea of opening Alexa to other competing AI assistants, though it has so far only approached Microsoft, Bezos was quoted as saying in the report. He noted, however, that it remains to be whether Google and Apple, both of which have their own smart speakers as well as digital assistants on their respective mobile operating systems, would be interested. Microsoft and Amazon have worked together in the past. The Echo and Echo Dot smart-speakers are powered by Bing search engine, instead of Google.
Alexa-powered Echo and Echo Dot have significant lead in the smart-speakers market, according to figures from marketing research firms. Unlike Google and Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are the only two companies that have opened their AI-powered digital assistants to be used by third-party companies in their smart-speakers. All four however, have opened access for third parties to serve their customers through the assistants, with SDKs and APIs.
Microsoft and Amazon of course, have their own mobile operating systems as well, but their reach is negligible. Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s Assistant all have apps for rival operating systems – namely, Android and iOS – but none of them are as capable as the native offerings from Google and Apple respectively.