Amazon and Microsoft connect their digital assistants to each other

digital assistants
David VanderWaal, VP of marketing for LG Electronics USA (L), listens to Mike George, VP Alexa, Echo and Appstore for Amazon, talking about their companies' partnership during the LG press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files

REUTERS – Amazon.com and Microsoft have joined forces to let their voice-controlled virtual assistants talk to each other, offering users the ability to seamlessly tap into work, their homes and shop online.

The partnership is the first time two technology companies open up their artificial intelligence-powered virtual aides to each other, and will be aimed at outsmarting rivals Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri.

The move in itself is rare as most virtual assistants are known to use data from their own ecosystems and not talk to one another.

Users of Amazon’s Alexa will be able to ask Microsoft’s Cortana to do a range of activities – from booking a meeting to reading work email. And Cortana users will be able to call on Alexa to play music or turn on house lights.

Not to be left behind, Alphabet said on Wednesday Google Assistant will soon be available on third-party speakers and other home appliances.

“Starting later this year, with manufacturers like LG, you’ll be able to control your appliances, including washers, dryers, vacuums and more from your Assistant on your smart speaker, Android phone or iPhone,” Google said.

Several technology companies are trying to grab a share in smart homes, which allow consumers to control various connected appliances such as refrigerators and lights from a central hub or a smartphone.

“In the long run it would seem that Amazon has more to gain from this deal, as Cortana remains trapped within the PC … while Amazon has won a powerful ally in its battle against Google,” Atlantic Equities analyst James Cordwell said.

While Amazon introduced voice-controlled Alexa with its Echo speakers in 2014, Google launched Assistant on its Google Home speakers last year. Apple in June introduced HomePod, powered by Siri.

Amazon Echo devices will claim a 70.6% share of the US market this year compared with a 23.8% share for Google Home, research firm eMarketer said in May.

Users will be able to turn to their Echo device later this year and say, “Alexa, open Cortana,” or turn to their Windows 10 device and say, “Cortana, open Alexa,” the companies said.

“It is surprising to me that these competitors have collaborated, that speaks to the quality of their respective CEOs,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.

“They understand that they will benefit more by working together than trying to destroy one another.”

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

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