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It’s quite unusual to find competing products form partnerships, but as reported by the New York Times, rival smart assistants Cortana and Alexa are teaming up to improve the overall consumer experience.
The publication says Microsoft and Amazon decided that instead of working separately, it would be mutually beneficial if the two AIs could access each other's unique skills. The plan is for those using Alexa devices to say “Alexa, open Cortana,” to access Microsoft’s assistant, while someone using Cortana could speak the command: “Cortana, open Alexa.”
“Alexa customers will be able to access Cortana’s unique features like booking a meeting or accessing work calendars, reminding you to pick up flowers on your way home, or reading your work email – all using just your voice. Similarly, Cortana customers can ask Alexa to control their smart home devices, shop on Amazon.com, interact with many of the more than 20,000 skills built by third-party developers, and much more,” Amazon explains in its press release.
In time, it's hoped that questions will automatically be sent to whichever assistant can best answer them. “In my view of the world, because that would be best for the customer, that’s probably what eventually happens,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said.
The surprising partnership has been in the works for some time. Bezos reportedly first suggested the idea of a collaboration to Satya Nadella at Microsoft’s CEO Summit in May 2016.
When asked if Google or Apple had been invited to add their respective digital assistants to the effort, Bezos said he hadn’t reached out to the companies and didn’t know if they would be open to the idea. “I’d welcome it,” he said. Nadella seemed equally enthusiastic. “Hopefully, they’ll be inspired by it. At least that would be my hope,” the Microsoft boss added.
Cortana continues to make its way into more products, including the upcoming Harman Kardon speaker and smart thermostat, while Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo devices remain popular – the Echo Dot was the best-selling item during the recent Amazon Prime Day.
Alexa and Cortana will begin talking to each other later this year