Amazon and Microsoft are partnering to better integrate their Alexa and Cortana digital assistants. Alexa users will be able to access Cortana, and vice versa on a range of devices, although the integration will be a little awkward initially. As first reported by The New York Times, someone using an Alexa device will have to say “Alexa, open Cortana” to get talk to Microsoft’s digital assistant, and someone using Cortana will have to say “Cortana, open Alexa” to talk to Amazon’s. It appears that both companies have simply created skills on each others platforms to enable the basic integration.
This cross-platform integration will also allow Alexa users to access some of the more unique aspects of Cortana. Microsoft has built its digital assistant more directly into its Office products, and now Alexa will get that functionality via Cortana — accessing work calendars and email, for example. While Microsoft is still tempting developers to create their own Cortana skills, existing Cortana users will be able to call up Alexa to get access to the ones that Cortana is missing. This might mean controlling smart home devices, or shopping on Amazon.
It’s a surprise move by both companies, and comes just as Microsoft is preparing to launch a Cortana speaker with Harman Kardon and push its digital assistant into cars, thermostats, and more devices. Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all built rival digital assistants that have been seen as walled gardens blocked off from each other, and this partnership signals a move to make them work better together.
The New York Times reports that Microsoft and Amazon partnered in May last year, after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos raised the idea with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Microsoft’s CEO summit. Amazon’s push to partner more closely with Microsoft makes sense, as the pair are both trying to fend off Google’s own assistant and Microsoft already helps power Alexa queries through its Bing search engine.
While Microsoft and Amazon have formed a closer partnership, Bezos also welcomes Apple and Google to offer similar integration, and says he’d support it. “There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas,” said Bezos in a press statement. “Together, their strengths will complement each other.” Nadella also appears to welcome the idea of collaboration with Apple and Google, saying “Hopefully, they’ll be inspired by it” in an NYT interview. The updated Cortana and Alexa assistants will be available some time “later this year.”
Update August 30th, 06:44AM ET: The story has been updated with information from Amazon’s press release.