Why Microsoft Wants to Bring Cortana to Alexa and Google Assistant

It's all part of a broader consumer plan.

Microsoft is repositioning Cortana as a service that works in conjunction with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, rather than competing with those voice assistants. CEO Satya Nadella told reporters this week that the assistant may play this new role as part of a new “Microsoft 365” subscription.

The comments are an expansion on Microsoft’s Cortana strategy. The assistant first launched in April 2014 as a companion for Windows devices and later the Xbox One, until August 2017 when the company announced an integration with former competitor Amazon Alexa. Nadella told The Verge this week that “Cortana needs to be that skill for anybody who’s a Microsoft 365 subscriber…you should be able to use it on Google Assistant, you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like how you use our apps on Android and iOS so that’s at least how we want to think about where it’ll go.”

The Google Home uses the Assistant to complete tasks.

Unsplash / Thomas Kolnowski

See more: Microsoft Is About to Give iPhone Emails an A.I. Boost

The strategy means expanding on the functionality seen with Alexa, where users can say “Alexa, open Cortana” or vice-versa to call on the other assistant for different tasks. This enables users, for example, to open their Outlook work calendar using Alexa, a task best suited to the Microsoft-designed assistant. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said at the time of the feature’s launch that he envisioned a future with “multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas.”

Perhaps less clear is how Cortana fits into Nadella’s “Microsoft 365” idea. ZDNet first discovered job listings for this mysterious “consumer subscription” back in December 2018, speculating that it could include the current Office 365 productivity suite plus extras like Skype, Cortana, Bing, Outlook Mobile and more. Nadella suggested during the interview that this subscription would act as a consumer-focused business, similar to the Surface lineup.

Microsoft may provide more information about this venture, and more, when it details its latest quarterly earnings on January 30.

Perhaps Microsoft’s biggest hurdle to achieving this vision is Google Assistant. Nadella expressed interest in bringing the assistant to Google back in August 2017, but it’s still nowhere to be seen. For now, Microsoft may have to remain content with Amazon.

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