Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa will be exposed to nearly 400 million Windows users – but Microsoft’s platform has a secret weapon: Skype.
Digital assistant technology has become the latest battleground in the long war between competing tech giants: Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. Now Microsoft and Amazon are forming an unusual partnership, which will allow consumers to use both Cortana and Alexa across both Microsoft and Amazon platforms. At first this may look like ceasefire between Microsoft and Amazon, but in fact, it’s far from. The competition between Cortana and Alexa is only heating up. Microsoft and Amazon are doubling down on their bets on which digital assistant users will choose.
Alexa, meet the PC market. Cortana, meet Echo users.
Consumers will soon be able to use both Cortana and Alexa on the same devices, enabling both Microsoft and Amazon to reach a larger market with their digital assistant. So far, Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo speakers have performed very well – a reported 10 million Echo devices are on track to be shipped this year. Microsoft, despite success in introducing Cortana to Windows 10 users, has been slow to enter the smart speaker market. The Harman-Kardon Invoke, which is a premier smart speaker powered by Cortana, is scheduled to release this fall. At first glance, Amazon looks to have the upper hand in this deal – an exposure to the massive Windows-based market of 400 million users. However, there’s a catch. Cortana and Alexa will still rely on their own medium of communication when used to communicate with other people: Skype and Echo Show. Yeah, there’s a reason why you’ve only ever heard of one of those.
Microsoft has an ace in the hole.
What the devices will rely on to communicate with others may hold the silver lining for Microsoft. Devices like Harman’s Invoke will have access to 300 million monthly active Skype users for calling and messaging. Over the last decade, Skype has become a household name in communication tech, offering free calls and messaging across international channels. Cortana-powered hardware will retain the exclusive rights to this medium of communication. The Echo Show, for now, can only communicate with other Echo devices. Until the Echo Show really catches on, there is simply no comparison as to which digital AI will have the capability to talk to more people.
Teaming up against Google and Apple?
Microsoft and Amazon are embarking on an ambitious project to combine their digital assistant ecosystems. So who wins? Both do. Microsoft and Amazon are aiming to bring their digital assistants to more consumers – and this strategic partnership will make that happen. Amazon certainly is off to a good start in the smart speaker business with Echo, and now, access to 400 million Windows PC users. But Amazon will not have the PC and speaker market cornered as long as Microsoft retains the exclusive power of Skype for Cortana users.
On the greater scale of things, both tech giants have struggled to break into the smartphone AI market against rivals Apple and Google. Both Apple and Google have their smartphones with their own digital assistants already built-in. It will be long, if ever, Cortana and Alexa will have parity in the smartphone business. Until then, Cortana and Alexa teaming up seems like a good idea for both Microsoft and Amazon – and maybe consumers as well.
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