Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are now on voice command speaking terms. The companies announced news on Wednesday (Aug. 30) that owners of either company’s smart home speaker will soon be able to leverage the capabilities of the other just by asking.
“The world is big and so multifaceted,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience.”
As Bezos said, Alexa, through the Amazon Echo, and Cortana have different areas of strength, and the companies believed that they could work together to give consumers the best possible voice assistant experience. For instance, Cortana excels at calendar tasks, such as booking meetings and checking appointments, while Alexa has cornered the smart home control market.
Later in 2017, owners of the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo home speaker will be able to say, “Alexa, open Cortana” to tap into her scheduling expertise, while Microsoft users will be able to say, “Cortana, open Alexa” to dim the lights or turn up the heat.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us. Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”
Bezos believes that, in the future, people will use different AI voice assistants for different tasks, and he wants to be part of facilitating that cross-company access. He and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella agreed that they would be happy to work with Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant down the road to continue building out the network, although there have not yet been any conversations to that effect.
Business Insider notes that the partnership could give Amazon and Microsoft a critical boost in the highly competitive virtual assistant voice command space, where competitors Apple (with Siri) and Google (with its Google Assistant) have successfully brought the technology to mobile in a way that neither Amazon nor Microsoft has managed.
On top of that, Amazon is apparently rolling out new capabilities for Alexa to send SMS messages, according to a report last night by TechCrunch. Code within the Alexa app seems to indicate that the voice assistant will soon be able to send text messages from a dedicated “Alexa number” using voice commands issued through the Echo device or Alexa app.
Echo owners can already place voice calls and send texts to other Echo owners and Alexa app users. The new feature, however, seems poised to open up the capability to call or text anybody from the user’s Alexa number.