Alexa-Cortana voice integration speaks its first words
- Bringing to market a collaboration that was first announced a year ago, the integration of Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana will be available to all U.S. users as part of a public preview releasing this week, according to a Microsoft blog post.
- The preview will be limited and will not include features like streaming music, flash briefing and setting alarms, but additional skills and devices will be added to the integration over time. Consumers interested in participating in the early access preview will be asked to engage with new features and offer feedback which engineers will use to improve the collaboration between Alexa and Cortana.
- The goal of the collaboration is the seamless integration of the two digital assistants so that they can carry out tasks at home or at work and on whatever device is most convenient to the user. Cortana and Alexa can each be enabled as a skill on the other voice assistant using Amazon Echo devices, Windows 10 PCs and Harman Kardon Invoke speakers, the blog post said.
Microsoft and Amazon have just raised the stakes in the battle for voice technology supremacy. The integration of Cortana and Alexa aligns two big-name, widely-used voice assistants from two very big technology companies against competitors like Google Home, Apple's HomePod and — new to the space — Samsung's Galaxy Home.
This news comes after a report this week from Strategy Analytics that said Amazon's global share of smart speaker shipments fell to 41% in the second quarter of this year from 76% in the same period last year. Google increased its share to 28% from 16% last year. Total device shipments of smart speakers in the second quarter were almost 12 million, about 8 million more than the previous year.
Another study from Parks Associates said almost 75% of consumers who plan to buy a smart home device said it was essential that it connect seamlessly to other products in their home electronics network, and a Capgemini report believes that within three years, about 40% of consumers will use a voice assistant as an alternative to a mobile app or website.
Using a voice assistant and purchasing from one are two different things, though, and researchers have reported mixed results. While a report from Voicebot.ai and Voysis said voice commerce is starting to gain momentum, with 26% of smart speaker users making a purchase, an article in The Information said only 2% of Alexa users purchase with the devices. Though that number was challenged by Amazon, a study by Episerver likewise found that consumers were slow to pick up on voice-assisted purchasing.
With the integration, Alexa owners can use Cortana to call on Echo devices to tap into Office 365 features, such as reading email, accessing work calendars and booking meetings. In turn, Cortana users can employ Alexa to shop on Amazon and use its library of 45,000 skills from third-party developers.
"We are steering the product experience toward delivering value in each of the three states that people are in, which is, in very generic terms, at work, at home, or somewhere in between — at least for our target user — and really honing in on what can [Cortana] do for that user in that setting that is assistive," Javier Soltero, vice president and product lead for Cortana at Microsoft, told VentureBeat.
An Amazon spokesperson also told the publication that the integration was part of a "longer-term vision for intelligent agents to work together on behalf of customers."