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A year later, the team-up between Microsoft and Amazon finally comes to life (MSFT, AMZN)

Matt Weinberger
Amazon Echo
  • A long-promised integration between the Amazon Alexa voice assistant, and Microsoft's Cortana, has finally come to life after a year of waiting.
  • To use it, just ask Alexa to "open Cortana." Or, if you're on a Windows 10 PC, ask Cortana to "open Alexa."
  • Cortana has integrations with Microsoft Outlook for e-mail and calendaring that Alexa and other similar assistants don't. Alexa, meanwhile, lets users 
  • It's a part of Amazon's ambitions to bring Alexa to every device. 

If you own an Amazon Echo speaker, you can now, finally, speak to Microsoft's Cortana assistant, if you so choose.

Also at long last, you can now use Cortana on a Windows 10 PC to talk to Amazon's Alexa assistant.

Anyone with access to either Cortana or Alexa can start using the alternate assistant on Wednesday.

The intermingling of intelligent assistants comes almost a year after it was promised. Last August, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced their companies were teaming up to integrate Alexa with Cortana. 

In January, Microsoft told reporters that the Alexa integrations were in the final stages of testing. But that was pretty much the only public update from either company about the partnership since the initial announcement.

Until now, that is.

If you're talking to Amazon's assistant from any Alexa-powered device, you can now just say "Alexa, open Cortana." From there, you can access a handful of features that are exclusive to Microsoft's assistant. For example, you can have it read to you emails sent to your corporate account or list your upcoming appointments that were scheduled in Microsoft's Outlook.

Similarly, from a Windows 10 computer, you can now say "open Alexa" after you launch Cortana. You can then ask Amazon's assistant to do anything it could do on an Echo speaker, including purchase items from Amazon, play songs from Amazon Music, or play games such as "Jeopardy." 

The companies are cautioning users that this is a public preview of the integration of the assistants, not a fully baked release.

On its surface, the partnership between the two companies would seem an unlikely one. Not only do Alexa and Cortana ostensibly compete with each other, but Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, the two companies' cloud computing services, are arch-rivals.

However, the partnership is a strategic move for both companies.

Amazon, which failed to establish its own devices or operating system as significant players in the smartphone market, has been aggressively pushing its intelligent assistant, seeing voice as the next major computing platform — and a key way to direct consumers to its web store and services. The endeavor has been dubbed "Alexa Everywhere."

Every speaker, appliance, and, now, PC that you can use to talk to Alexa can serve as a channel to the wide world of Amazon's goods and services. By most measures, Alexa is the leading voice assistant, edging out the Google Assistant. The deal with Microsoft gives Amazon another beachhead in its attempt to dominate the market. Earlier this year, in a related move, Amazon announced partnerships with HP, Acer, and Asus for special Alexa-equipped PCs. 

For Microsoft, the deal gives it a chance to promote Cortana to a new audience. The company has long hyped Cortana's integration with Outlook and its other corporate tools in an attempt to lure in users.

But in terms of catching on with consumers or electronics makers, Cortana has trailed far behind Alexa and Google Assistant. Only one smart speaker on the market supports Cortana. Microsoft's assistant integrates with far fewer smart home appliances than its rivals, and there are fewer Cortana-specific apps.

By bringing Cortana to Alexa, Microsoft can potentially reach users on devices other than PCs. But it's an open question whether Alexa users will actually take advantage of that option.

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