By the end of this year, it will be possible to use Microsoft’s Cortana virtual assistant through Amazon’s Echo speakers, and Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant through Cortana.
The surprise deal between the two companies was revealed Wednesday in a New York Times report that said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had been quietly working on the idea for more than a year.
The idea of the tie-up is to give each virtual assistant’s users access to the other assistant’s unique strengths, and to help each system spread beyond its current base.
For example, Cortana, which Microsoft claims has 145 million monthly active users through its Windows 10 PC operating system, offers good integration with Microsoft’s Outlook that other virtual assistants cannot offer. Alexa, which is much more successful in the smart speaker market—of which Amazon has a 70 percent share—has its own communications ecosystem that lets users call or message other Alexa users.
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According to the NYT piece, the integration will at first require users to command their virtual assistants to call up the other, as in “Alexa, open Cortana” and vice versa.
It’s worth noting that Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant are already doing well on the iOS and Android mobile devices into which they are closely integrated. Amazon and Microsoft, which have both failed to become significant mobile players, have released mobile apps for their respective virtual assistants, but Alexa and Cortana are still strongest on their native platforms. Introducing a bridge between those two platforms could help strengthen both.