The Microsoft-Amazon Alliance In Voice Assistants Puts Pressure On Google – Forbes
In the battle for domination of voice assistants among the tech giants, Microsoft’s Cortana has always seemed furthest behind. Although it comes embedded in the hundreds of millions of Windows 10 PCs, the PC isn’t the best place to interact with a voice assistant. Rather, it’s in devices like Amazon’s Echo smart speakers, powered by Alexa, that offer a more interesting and tantalizing view into the future of these digital assistants.
On Wednesday, Microsoft and Amazon announced their competing voice assistants would begin talking to each other.
The first step in this integration is rather clunky. Amazon Echo users have to say, “Alexa, open Cortana,” while Microsoft users have to say, “Cortana, open Alexa.”
The partnership gives Microsoft access to Amazon’s lead in the early smart speaker market. (Microsoft is also trying to push Cortana outside of the PC arena and into speakers and cars.) It also gives Microsoft access to the more consumer-centric capabilities of Alexa, such as playing music from a variety of streaming music services as well as controlling various smart home gadgets.
“Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a statement. “Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”
For Amazon, this partnership lets Alexa interact with more of the productivity features of Cortana. Cortana, for example, is integrated closely with Outlook for reading emails, booking meetings or accessing work calendars. It also gives Amazon access to the about 500 million Windows 10 users.
“The world is big and so multifaceted. 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,” said Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in a statement. “It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana.”
The integration is expected to go live later this year.
The two other main competitors in this market — Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant — have already embedded their voice assistants into the iOS and Android mobile platforms, but they’re trying to catch up with Amazon’s smart speaker with the Apple HomePod and Google Home speakers.
“This agreement certainly shakes up the digital assistant market,” said tech analyst Patrick Moorhead.
Moorhead said the Microsoft-Amazon partnership puts the most pressure on Google, because Google currently has a big size advantage with the Google Assistant coming on Android phones with the latest operating system. Moorhead estimates there are around 1 billion Android phones that use Google services (Android phones in China don’t use Google services), but only an estimated 15% of users are on the Nougat version of Android — so around 150 million Android phones. The Cortana integration gives Alexa access to around 500 million Windows 10 PCs. This “negates Google’s size advantage,” Moorhead said. “Ecosystem size matters when you are all competing for the same developer dollar.”