In a surprise move, Amazon and Microsoft have announced that they’re joining forces to make their voice-based virtual assistants work together. Nick Wingfield at the New York Times writes:
For the past year, the two companies have been coordinating behind the scenes to make Alexa and Cortana communicate with each other. The partnership, which the companies plan to announce early Wednesday, will allow people to summon Cortana using Alexa, and vice versa, by the end of the year.
When this first scrolled across my timeline this morning, I thought it was baffling, but after reading the article I started to get what they’re going after. Here’s the key part, I think:
The two companies have struggled in the smartphone business, which makes it hard to get people using Alexa and Cortana outside homes and offices.
To my mind, Amazon continues to have the best virtual assistant platform—and I would say that Microsoft has probably, well, the worst. Siri and Google Assistant are vying for the second-place position right now. But, Cortana does have access to the large market of Windows machines (and, this article never seems to mention, the Xbox), which potentially gives Amazon a vector to bring in enterprise and gaming users. Cortana, for its part, gets the benefits of being accessible on probably the most prominent voice-based platform to date.
Apple and Google aren’t expected to join the effort any time soon, and that seems right to me: both have way too much invested in their respective ecosystems to make this kind of alliance. But that doesn’t stop me from hoping for a Defenders-level team up where you can, as Bezos and Nadella suggest, really use whichever assistant is the best suited for the task.