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Smart Home

After a year's wait, Amazon and Microsoft bring Alexa and Cortana to each other's devices

Live today, the long-awaited collaboration brings Alexa to Windows 10 devices and Cortana to Amazon's Echo speakers. Just ask one assistant to "open" the other.

Chris Monroe/CNET

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That's the premise behind a cooperative effort from Amazon and Microsoft that lets Alexa users cue up Cortana on their Echo speakers. Meanwhile, you'll be able to ask Cortana to let Alexa take the wheel on Windows 10 devices, and on the Cortana-powered Invoke smart speaker from Harman Kardon.

First announced one year ago in August of 2017, the long-awaited collaboration is live today as an early-access public preview. The idea is that the two voice assistants stand to benefit from each other's strengths -- primarily Cortana's deep access to Microsoft Outlook's email and calendar data, and Alexa's expansive smart home controls and growing library of third-party skills. Microsoft tells us that "many" of those skills will be available at launch, with more coming later down the line.

The Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker (left) with the Amazon Echo. You can now access both Alexa and Cortana on each of them.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

"Our goal is to create a seamless integration and this is our first step toward achieving that goal," a Microsoft spokesperson tells CNET.

Still, it isn't a complete mind-meld. You'll still need to ask each assistant to "open" the other before you can access the additional controls, as in, "Alexa, open Cortana." Once you do, your voice data will stay siloed off regardless of what device you're using.

"Once you open Cortana, all voice data goes to Microsoft and not Amazon, and once you open Alexa, all voice data goes to Amazon and not Microsoft," Amazon spokeswoman Dawn Brun said in a statement last year.

alexa-cortana

To access Cortana on your Echo speaker, you'll need to enable the Cortana skill in the Alexa app.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

Echo users will first need to enable the Cortana skill in the Alexa app, which includes logging in with a Microsoft account. Alexa and Cortana might be buddies, but there are still barriers stopping them from offering a truly seamless multiassistant experience.

That said, when the collaboration was first announced, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told the New York Times that he envisioned a future where devices would automatically forward your voice command to the assistant best suited for the task at hand, no extra invocation phrases necessary.

"In my view of the world, because that would be best for the customer, that's probably what eventually happens," Bezos told the Times.

Such a future would likely require support from rival voice assistants like Apple's Siri, Samsung's Bixby and Google Assistant, none of which have shown much movement toward cooperation in the 12 months since Amazon and Microsoft's partnership was first announced.

"Hopefully, they'll be inspired by it," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the Times last year when asked about Apple and Google. "At least that would be my hope."

First published Aug. 15, 9 a.m. ET. 
Update, 1 p.m. ET: Adds more information about linking Cortana accounts on Amazon Echo devices.

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