What the Alexa, Cortana Link Up Means for Virtual Assistant Users

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What the Alexa, Cortana Link Up Means for Virtual Assistant Users

Microsoft and Amazon announced that their respective virtual assistants, Cortana and Alexa, soon will be able to talk to each other. This fall, the collaboration between the companies will have progressed to the point where Alexa users will be able to ask Cortana to read them their work emails or create calendar events. Meanwhile, Cortana users will be able to take advantage of the more than 20,000 skills Amazon and its third-party creators have deployed. It also means the services will dramatically expand their reach across the many devices the assistants work with. This slide show will discuss in detail the Alexa-Cortana tie-up and what that means for consumers and enterprise users who want to take advantage of the shared capabilities of these digital assistants.

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Cortana Takes a More Businesslike Approach

Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant provides several corporate-focused features, including the ability to book a meeting through the assistant or access work calendars. Cortana also can provide contextual reminders based on users' activities and can read user emails on command.

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Alexa Is More Consumer-Focused

Alexa comes with more than 20,000 “skills” that allow it to do everything from control smart-home settings to read an audiobook to users. It also can search the web and help users place orders for merchandise from the Amazon marketplace. Amazon is more consumer-focused than Cortana.

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Connecting to Alexa Through Cortana

According to the companies, Amazon’s Alexa will be fully functional through Cortana. Users will activate Alexa by using the command, “Cortana, open Alexa,” and the full slate of Alexa skills will be accessible to users. More functionality could come later.

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Accessing Cortana Features Through Alexa

When the integration is completed, users will be able to say, “Alexa, open Cortana,” to access the Microsoft assistant's features. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that Alexa users will gain access to Cortana's reminders service, one of its more popular features.

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Alexa Comes to Office 365

For the enterprise, one feature might trump them all: Office 365 integration. With that option, Alexa users can take advantage of Cortana’s Office 365 features, which work with Outlook for calendaring and reminders. Cortana also can access organizational data and works with a variety of client apps on mobile devices.

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Alexa Will Access Cortana Through Windows 10 First

Microsoft first will allow Alexa to access Cortana through Windows 10 PCs. Eventually, the company will make the feature available on Android and iPhone versions of its software. Microsoft didn’t say whether Xbox integration would also be available.

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Cortana Coming to Amazon Hardware

Amazon has been less forthcoming on how it will implement Cortana access on its devices. The companies have only said that Cortana would come to “Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show.” The companies didn’t say whether third-party hardware that uses Alexa would also support Cortana.

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Significant Questions Remain

Some important questions remain unanswered regarding the integration. Will the companies be working with each other on the back end to mutually improve their services? How easy will the user experience really be? Or, perhaps most importantly, will other companies join the partnership? For now, there are more questions than answers.

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The Alexa-Cortana Integration Will Start This Fall

Alexa and Cortana integration will take place this fall, though neither Microsoft nor Amazon has provided a firm availability date. Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 10 PCs will get access to Alexa first, followed by iOS and Android. The feature likely will be available as a free update when it’s ready.

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A Look to the Future

The two companies haven't set a time limit on the Alexa and Cortana integration. Many industry pundits believe this could be the beginning of a broader relationship between Amazon and Microsoft. The agreement is unorthodox, to say the least, and could have major implications for competing assistants including Apple's Siri and Google Now.

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