Microsoft, Amazon release preview of Alexa and Cortana collaboration

In the real world, no one relies on one person for all their needs — fixing a car’s engine requires different skills than offering financial advice or caring for a baby. So it makes sense that people would rely on two digital assistants to stay on top of their home and work lives — but also want the two of them to work together at times.

Now, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are taking the next step in a collaboration announced last fall. U.S. customers who are interested in early access to the collaboration will be able to summon Cortana on Echo devices and enable Alexa on their Windows 10 PCs and Harman Kardon Invoke speakers. As part of a public preview releasing this week, they also can offer feedback on how to improve the experience.

The goal is to have two integrated digital assistants who can carry out tasks across different dimensions of daily life — at home or work, and on whatever device is most convenient. Currently, Cortana and Alexa can each be enabled as a skill on the other.

An Office 365 customer could, for instance, ask Cortana to summon Alexa through a PC at work and use Alexa to order groceries or adjust the thermostat before heading home for the day. And someone making breakfast in the kitchen could enlist Cortana through an Echo device to preview a daily calendar, add an item to a to-do list or check for new emails before heading to the office.

These early users will be asked to engage with the new features and offer input: what they like, what they don’t like, what features they use the most. The experience will get better and more precise as more people use it, through customer input and additional data to improve underlying algorithms.

Some features such as streaming music and setting alarms are not yet available, but additional skills and devices will be integrated over time. Engineers will use feedback from the public preview to deepen the collaboration between Cortana and Alexa.


Jennifer Langston writes about Microsoft research and innovation. Follow her on Twitter.