Microsoft and Amazon launch Alexa-Cortana public preview for Echo speakers and Windows 10 PCs

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Microsoft and Amazon will bring Alexa and Cortana to all Echo speakers and Windows 10 users in the U.S. today. As part of a partnership between the Seattle-area tech giants, you can say “Hey Cortana, open Alexa” to Windows 10 PCs and “Alexa, open Cortana” to a range of Echo smart speakers.

The public preview bringing the most popular AI assistant on PCs together with the smart speaker with the largest U.S. market share will be available to most people today, but will be rolled out to all users in the country over the course of the next week, a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

Each of the assistants brings unique features to the table. Cortana, for example, can schedule a meeting with Outlook, create location-based reminders, or draw on LinkedIn to tell you about people in your next meeting, and Alexa has more than 40,000 voice apps or skills made to tackle a broad range of use cases.

If you’re willing to use both assistants, you can check your inbox and write emails with Cortana, or order groceries or control smart home devices from more than 2,000 manufacturers with Alexa.

Many of the features common to both assistants — like reminders, timers, or adding events to your calendar — will be available through both Alexa and Cortana, but some features — such as streaming music, audiobooks, and news flash briefings — won’t be available at launch.

The partnership was first made public in a co-announcement in August 2017 featuring Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Both companies refer to the integration as an acknowledgement that we live in a world with multiple AI assistants.

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“The world is big and so multifaceted. There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement last August.

The multi-assistant approach for Echo speakers and Windows 10 PCs makes Amazon and Microsoft different from rivals with a single virtual assistant, such as Siri in Apple’s HomePod, Bixby in the recently debuted Galaxy Home speaker, and Google Assistant in Google’s line of Home smart speakers.

Microsoft and Amazon gave the world its first look at how Alexa on PCs and Cortana on Echo speakers will work in May at the Build developer conference in Seattle.

Smart speakers with Cortana support include the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Spot, Echo Plus, and Echo Show, a company spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email. Alexa will also be available on the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker.

Cortana currently has more than 140 million monthly active users, which appear to come entirely from Windows 10 PCs. Though the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker came out last year, sales have been underwhelming and it has yet to gain widespread adoption.

Amazon has been less than forthright about Echo speaker sales but says that “tens of millions of devices” have been sold.

This spring, Microsoft VP Javier Soltero moved from his role as product lead for the Microsoft Office group to become product lead for Cortana. VP Andrew Shuman will lead Cortana engineering efforts.

Soltero’s plans for additional feature changes for Cortana will begin to roll out this fall, an anonymous source told Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

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The article also supposes plans to bring Cortana to Echo devices may have crippled Cortana’s voice app ecosystem, something Soltero denied in an earlier interview with VentureBeat.

In an interview with VentureBeat this spring, Soltero called email “a bedrock thing for Cortana” and denied that an integration with Alexa has led to a stifling of Cortana Skills Kit adoption among developers. Soltero also expressed a desire for Cortana to expand beyond an emphasis on productivity and the workplace and spoke in general terms about Cortana’s future expansion.

“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,” he told VentureBeat.

Though today’s release is for the United States only, once Alexa-Cortana is made available in other parts of the world, the integration could help introduce the two AI assistants to a wider group of users outside the United States.

Echo speakers are currently available in multiple English dialects, Spanish, French, German, and Japanese. Cortana can speak the same languages, as well as Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese. Last week, Amazon began its expansion into Mexico, making Echo speakers available in Latin America for the first time.

For its part, Google has committed to making its Assistant available in 30 languages and able to handle multilingual commands by the end of the year.

While Amazon and Microsoft have been working to introduce their partnership for about a year, this isn’t the first time consumers will be able to use the two assistants in the same place, as Alexa became available in select PCs like the Asus Spin 5 earlier this summer.

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“At launch, customers will see some slight differences between this [Alexa-Cortana] and experiences delivered on Echo Show or through the Alexa for PC solution. This integration is part of a longer-term vision for intelligent agents to work together on behalf of customers, and we’re working closely with Microsoft to add new capabilities, features, and devices over time,” an Amazon spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

To give users the option to speak with the guest assistant for as long as they want and to avoid the need to repeatedly ask Alexa to speak with Cortana or Cortana to speak with Alexa, a re-prompt command has been added for both assistants, a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat.

Source: VentureBeat

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