Amazon has announced its Alexa voice-controlled digital assistant is being integrated into Windows 10 computers. The new computers, with Alexa installed, will begin hitting the market in the first quarter of 2018.
Once they arrive it won’t take long before there are enough such machines to change how we work with them and how they interact with us at home and in the office.
But now, as the number of voice-controlled, AI enabled computers and smart devices reach critical mass, they’re starting to spread everywhere. This week, a number of computer makers announced that they will ship some of their Windows 10 PC models with Alexa installed, allowing users to simply talk to their PCs if they want to start a search, listen to music, or perform other tasks.
As you might imagine, this is only the beginning. Windows computers are ubiquitous, and once the Alexa app starts showing up there, it will be effectively everywhere. It won’t happen overnight, but once the first Windows 10 computers from HP, Acer and Asus start arriving in customer homes and offices, it’ll be impossible to stop.
“We think voice will be a big part of the future, and we’re excited that this is day one for Alexa on PCs,” an Amazon spokesperson told eWEEK in an email. “Voice and AI can simplify everyday tasks for customers, and now that includes capabilities on their desktops and laptops.”
This raises the question of whether other Windows 10 users will also be able to download install Alexa as a standalone app on their computers. “We want Alexa to be everywhere our customers are,” the spokesperson said, “but I don’t have anything specific to share today.”
If you decode PR-speak, the answer is clearly yes, but Amazon isn’t ready to talk about it yet, probably because there’s still development to be done and it might take a while. But the fact that Alexa will eventually be running on the general population of Windows 10 computers is important for a couple of reasons.
What does this mean for the Microsoft Cortana digital assistant that’s already working on Windows 10 machines?
It means that Microsoft realized fairly early in its Windows 10 deployment process that Cortana, wasn’t cutting the mustard for the sort of things that people want to do when they talk to their devices. My use of Cortana demonstrated that the Microsoft’s digital assistant was very good at running a Bing search, but not a lot else.
Working together, Alexa and Cortana would make a very powerful team. Microsoft and Amazon came to that conclusion last year, and agreed to work together to allow integration between the two by the end of 2017. That effort is still ongoing, but for now the Alexa on Windows effort is separate, meaning that Cortana integration will likely appear in the months ahead.
In the meantime, however, bringing Alexa to Windows exposes Alexa for Business to a powerful new audience. “Alexa for Business includes the tools and controls that administrators need to deploy and manage shared Alexa devices, skills, and users at scale,” the Amazon spokesperson said in response to my questions. “This is distinct from the Alexa for PC news you reference, but we’re excited for organizations of all sizes to introduce Alexa to their workplace.”
You can probably see a trend here. From one direction, Amazon is bringing its Alexa ecosystem into the world’s largest computer ecosystem, Windows PCs. From the other direction comes the Alexa for Business ecosystem, ready to work with those PCs.
Considering that Alexa for Business uses Amazon Web Services, which is already the dominant cloud platform for business, you can see where this is going. Amazon plans to voice enable business applications very broadly. There are Alexa skills for business that are already available, and you can assume that the number of such skills will grow.
For example, you can already use a skill from Crestron that lets you run and record your meetings using Alexa and similar business uses are already evolving. Considering that Alexa for Windows will give the AI a front end that’s far more powerful than a smart speaker or smart home controller. With the Windows PC’s screen and camera to supplement its capabilities you can see how Alexa could become dramatically more useful in a business setting.
This move certainly hasn’t escaped Google’s attention and considering its efforts to spread the Google Assistant everywhere, it’s certainly going to bring a response. That response will result in a sort of War of the Assistants, perhaps much like the web browser wars of the 1990s, in which each company will try to outdo the other in the usefulness and ubiquity of their products.
Google Assistant has already spread beyond the Google Home speaker and now exists as an app on mobile phones and on televisions. But right now, Alexa seems to have the mindshare advantage and Amazon’s aggressive spread into the PC and the business market could well put its market out of reach for Google.
Alexa could very well be the voice controlled AI interface that sets the standard that other cloud, computer and application companies must conform to.