Amazon and Microsoft are partnering together to better integrate their Alexa and Cortana digital assistants. The New York Times reports that Alexa users will be able to access Cortana, and vice versa on a range of devices, but that the integration will be a little awkward initially. Someone using an Alexa device will have to say “Alexa, open Cortana” to get access to Microsoft’s own digital assistant, and someone using Cortana will have to say “Cortana, open Alexa.” It appears that both companies have simply created skills on each others platforms to enable the basic integration.
This cross-platform integration will also allow Alexa users to get access to some of the more unique aspects of Cortana. Microsoft has built its digital assistant to access Office products, and now Alexa will get that functionality by tapping into Cortana. While Microsoft is still tempting developers to create their own Cortana skills, existing Cortana users will be able to call up Alexa to get access to the ones that Cortana is missing.
It’s a surprise move by both companies, and comes just as Microsoft is preparing to launch a Cortana speaker with Harman Kardon and push its digital assistant into cars, thermostats, and more devices. Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have all built rival digital assistants that have been seen as walled gardens blocked off from each other, and this partnership signals a move to make them work better together.
The New York Times reports that Microsoft and Amazon partnered in May last year, after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos raised the idea with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Microsoft’s CEO summit. Amazon’s push to partner more closely with Microsoft makes sense, as the pair are both trying to fend off Google’s own assistant and Microsoft already helps power Alexa queries through its Bing search engine.
While Microsoft and Amazon have formed a closer partnership, Bezos also welcomes Apple and Google to offer similar integration, and says he’d support it. Nadella also appears to welcome the idea, saying “Hopefully, they’ll be inspired by it” in an NYT interview. Microsoft and Amazon are planning to fully detail their partnership later today.