Voice assistants Alexa and Cortana are now a team

Lara Williams

Lara Williams, Editor-at-large

Microsoft and Amazon have decided to unite their voice assistants Cortana and Alexa, but what does it mean? And will it actually improve their user experience?

Giant tech companies don’t usually join forces. In competition to seem like the best at the latest form of technology, they remain aloof and secretive.

Microsoft and Amazon, however, must have finally learned to share and are teaming-up in an unusual partnership. Together, they’ll figure out how to make Alexa and Cortana, their voice assistants, work together – enhancing each of the A.I’s abilities.

Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft, said to the NY Times: “The personality and expertise of each one will be such that if they interoperated, the user will get more out of it…that resonated for me and him, and then that’s what led to the teams working.”

assistants microsoft amazon partnership

Source: Microsoft

“Cortana, please open Alexa.”

All things considered, the partnership makes sense. Alexa, for example, is a retail whizz. She’ll help you buy things off Amazon from dawn until dusk, with no sweat. Cortana, on the other hand, has the full Office 365 arsenal at her disposal. She’s far better at keeping track of your day, emails and work than Alexa is.

Put them together and you have a dream team – one voice assistant to rule them all. Or do you?

Eventually the plan will be for the assistants to be smart enough to know which of them is best for the task, but initially it won’t be as smooth as that.

Users will have to say, “Alexa, open Cortana” or “Cortana, open Alexa” before being able to access the extra abilities. While hardly strenuous, the joy of voice assistants is being able to act naturally with them. The extra voice command and, crucially, the added thinking step for the user is awkward, introducing what WIRED has deemed ‘a significant seam’.

The Smartphone Issue

WIRED also points out the smartphone problem. Apple and Google, currently the main competitors on the voice assistant front, have assistant-enabled smartphones. Siri and Google Assistant can be with you at every part of your day.

Alexa and Cortana, however, are stuck at home. Despite being present in smart speakers and PCs, while you can download them as apps on your Android, Amazon and Microsoft lack their own mobile device – meaning that they can’t as fully and richly embed themselves into their users’ lives.

smart speakers echo assistants

Source: The Verge

Not only are they not there for you while your hands are full in the supermarket and you need to remember the capital of Azerbaijan (Baku) or whether you have anything planned on Friday night, but they’re missing out on crucial data.

Siri and Google Assistant know where you are, what you do and most importantly what you need throughout the day. This makes for a bespoke, more useful experience over time.

The two tech titans are likely aware of this, and are currently trying to cut deals with carmakers to get their technology integrated directly into vehicles.

Ultimately, the partnership, once the awkward merging is fixed, has helped fix holes in each of the company’s offering. However, in order to become the almighty voice assistant that Bezos and Nadella envisage – they’ll need a phone.

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