Microsoft today will begin to allow Alexa device owners to summon its own virtual assistant, Cortana, through their Echo devices, as well as call for Alexa via Cortana. The integration between the two voice computing platforms was previously announced and briefly demoed on stage in May at Microsoft’s Build 2018 event in Seattle. But the companies at the time hadn’t given a timeline as to when the integrations between the two assistants would be available to the public.
Now, the companies are taking the first steps towards that goal with a public preview of their Alexa-Cortana collaboration.
Customers who want to test out this new feature will be able to try it starting today, August 15, Microsoft says. The integration will continue to roll out in the days ahead, so you may not immediately gain access, we should note.
Initially, customers will be able to call up Microsoft’s Cortana through their Echo devices and enable Amazon’s Alexa on Windows 10 devices and on Harman Kardon Invoke speakers. Later, it will arrive on mobile platforms like iOS and Android.
Once enabled, the integration will allow Cortana users to ask Alexa to shop Amazon, manage their Amazon orders, and use some of Alexa’s third-party skills. Alexa users, meanwhile, will gain access to Cortana’s knowledge about productivity features including calendar management, their day at a glance, and their email.
For example, Echo device owners can say to Cortana things like “What new emails do I have?,” “What is on my calendar today?,” and “Add ‘order flowers’ to my to-do list.”
And Windows device users can click the microphone button or say “Hey Cortana, open Alexa,” followed by queries like “What are today’s shopping deals?,” “Set the temperature to 72 degrees,” or “Open Jeopardy.”
The companies say that more skills and features will be added in time.
“With this public preview, we want users to engage with the experience and provide feedback so our teams can continue to improve the experience,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. “Our goal is to create a seamless integration and this is our first step towards achieving that goal.”
When Microsoft and Amazon first discussed making their assistants work together, there was some skepticism about how it would all work. Some people feared the voice commands would be awkward, or believed the integrations were unnecessary.
However, when the companies demoed the integrations live at Build, it was clear they had thought about the user experience. Launching Cortana via an Echo was as simple as saying so: “open Cortana.” That made it feel more like using a third-party skill. You could then issue commands without having to keep saying “Cortana each time.” The same was true for the reverse, when talking to Alexa on a Microsoft device.
At the event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had also stressed the values of a more open system, saying “We want to make it possible for our customers to get the most out of their personal digital assistants – not be bound to some walled garden.”
Getting their virtual assistants to work together isn’t the only way the two companies have teamed up. Alexa is also shipping on some Microsoft PCs, for example. Cortana, however, isn’t making much of a leap beyond the Windows platform, which has allowed other voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant to gain traction in the voice-powered devices space.