Though we have a choice of many digital assistants from a variety of companies that are capable of helping us do everything from turning on our favorite song to organizing our day, one thing they haven’t quite managed is to work together.
It appears, however, that’s about to change thanks to a new partnership between Amazon and Microsoft. In a recent report, the New York Times has said (opens in new tab) that before the year is out, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana will be able to communicate with one another.
So, for anyone using an Alexa device it’ll be possible to access Cortana by saying “Alexa, open Cortana” and vice versa for anyone using a Cortana-enabled device. It’s a basic level of integration which essentially just involves both companies creating skills on one another’s platforms, but it’s been something the New York Times says has been in the works for around a year.
An unlikely pair
It’s also a somewhat surprising move - it’s not common to see companies as large as Microsoft and Amazon work together, particularly in an area as crowded and seemingly competitive as digital assistants. But it will have benefits to users.
Cross-platform integration will mean Alexa users will now more easily be able to access Cortana’s Microsoft Office skills and Cortana will be able to fill the hole in its wider skills gap by allowing its users to call on Alexa.
According to the New York Times, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said that it’s important that users “have access to as many of those AIs as possible” as in the future it’s likely we’ll turn to different assistants for different things.
For example, users will naturally turn to Cortana for anything relating to Microsoft’s Outlook or Office services. The most likely outcome (and the outcome that’ll be most beneficial to users) is that there’ll be a primary assistant capable to directing the user’s request to whichever assistant is most equipped to answer their request.
Bezos stated that at the moment he hasn’t reached out to Google or Apple to see if they would be interested in a similar partnership but says that he would “welcome it”, while Microsoft’s Satya Nadella stated he hoped they would be “inspired” by the partnership.
It is, perhaps, a different situation for Apple and Google given that their respective assistants Siri and Google Assistant are important parts of the very distinct iOS and Android smartphone ecosystems. Arguably these companies have more to gain from keeping their assistants separate.
However, it could be beneficial for both users and Google and Apple to at least work more closely with Alexa and Cortana, if they can’t work with one another.
More details of the partnership will be released later this week and we'll report with more news as it comes in.