In an unprecedented collaboration between two titans, Microsoft and Amazon will allow their voice assistants to integrate and utilize each other giving users unparalleled capabilities across platforms.
Speaking to the New York Times, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said that the collaboration began at Microsoft’s CEO Summit last year when Bezos floated the idea to Nadella. Bezos further said that he was open to discussions with other leading companies in voice technology such as Google and Apple to bring their voice assistants into an alliance to complement each other.
In a joint news release, Bezos said that the world is a huge space with varied interests that are going to develop intelligent voice agents with different skills, accessing different sets of data and therefore the imperative to integrate these strengths for customers to benefit with a seamless experience. He added that it would be awesome for Echo users to get smooth access to Cortana.
In the same news release, Nadella said that their priority is to make Cortana available across different devices, for all their customers regardless of the location, and the partnership with Amazon will lead to that realization. He added that Cortana’s Office 365 integration, reminders, commitments and knowledge will greatly enrich Alexa.
The future plan is to have each assistant know how to use the other for any specified task when they are fully integrated. For the initial stages Echo devices and Windows 10 will connect first before the integration of Alexa and Cortana is expanded to iOS and Android. These early stages will see users being required to tell either voice assistant to open the other. That is, Echo users will have to say, “Alexa, open Cortana,” and Windows 10 users will have to say, “Cortana, open Alexa,” for them to communicate.
The two tech giants have been strong rivals in cloud services with market leader Amazon Web Services competing with Microsoft’s Azure. The cloud services are a critical component of the voice assistants because they provide the necessary interface for artificial intelligence which drives voice technology. This integration brings together technologies that started off in separate domains, Amazon having started out in e-commerce and Microsoft in personal computers.
The partnership brings together two companies that have faltered in their forays into smartphones with Microsoft’s Windows Phone scaled down and Amazon’s Fire Phone all but fizzled. This has given their rivals Apple and Google more progress for having their own operating systems iOS and Android on their own smartphones. This gave Google’s and Apple’s voice assistants a native advantage.
But even so, Microsoft, using Nadella’s tendency to get into strategic partnerships with competitors will be able to take advantage of its Windows 10 devices that have grown to more than 500 million to advance its voice assistant. Amazon on the other hand has in excess of 10 million smart home speaker devices that use Alexa to communicate. The iconic Echo is already a market leader.