Microsoft Demos Cortana and Alexa Integration at Build 2018

Last August Amazon and Microsoft announced in a joint statement that Alexa and Cortana would soon be able to talk to each other. Then at this year’s CES it was announced that the Alexa app for Microsoft’s Windows 10 was rolling out to new PCs this year. And now, we finally have an idea of how the two assistants will work together thanks to a demonstration at Microsoft’s annual BUILD conference.

In the video below, Megan Saunders, General Manager of Cortana, and Tom Taylor, Senior VP of Amazon Alexa, demonstrate how the integration works both ways, from the “office” and “home”. First Saunders shows how at home, you can ask Alexa on your Echo device, “Alexa, talk to Cortana,” to access your calendar and email from Microsoft Office. Then Taylor uses his office PC to ask “Cortana, talk to Alexa” and then uses Amazon’s voice assistant to call an Uber and to turn off the lights.

Alexa and Cortana: A Voice Assistant for the Home and Office

The demo illustrates what both companies hope to gain from the integration. Amazon needs distribution for Alexa. While the Echo device has given Alexa access to millions of consumers, it still does not have a large built-in user base. Google has Android. And Microsoft has Windows and Microsoft Office. The integration would give Alexa access to a new audience of millions of people who are already using Microsoft at work.

In fact, Microsoft Cortana is not struggling on the enterprise side as a recent study found that 49% of enterprises use Cortana as their office voice assistant of choice today. However, Cortana has yet to become a household name among consumers. Giving millions of Alexa users the opportunity to talk to Cortana at home would greatly increase the usage rate of its voice assistant and maybe even get people talking about Cortana itself. Considering Cortana has less than 300 skills, it is no surprise that Microsoft would like to tether itself to Alexa to reach more consumers.

More Voice Assistant Partnerships to Come?

The integration is one of the first we’ve seen of two companies tethering their AI-powered voice assistants to one another. However, there is definitely room for improvement. The integration isn’t quite seamless according to the demo. It is almost like there is now a Cortana skill for Alexa and an Alexa skill for Cortana with the current beta version of the integration. It could also be quite clunky for the average user. For instance, when Taylor uses Alexa on Cortana to call his Uber, how would a user know that they need to ask for Alexa first? The demo also shows that Alexa pulls his pick-up address from his Alexa account. What if it is his home address? Barriers like this could cause a less than ideal user experience and create greater friction for the user to getting a task complete. That could be why the integration is currently in beta and no release date has been set.

That being said, the integrations of two voice assistants could be where the future of voice is headed. Maybe it is futile to think that one voice assistant can do everything and do everything well. Amazon and Microsoft certainly think this is the case. In the demo introduction, Taylor states:

At Amazon, we believe voice will make customers’ lives easier at home, at work and everywhere in between. We share a vision that there will be many successful intelligent agents working together to provide customers a more helpful experience.

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