Microsoft showed off the interplay between its Cortana digital assistant and Amazon’s Alexa at its Build developer event Monday. This was part of a theme on Microsoft’s vision for running apps everywhere on anything. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in his keynote, “We need to up level our concept of what an operating system is,” and “Applications aren’t just square boxes anymore.”
Like its IoT play, Microsoft’s vision for controlling a more variable app experience across different devices depends on the cloud. While a part of me is always hoping for some robust device-to device protocol that can allow devices to communicate with each other for basic tasks without the cloud, this is obviously not a vision that huge cloud providers want to promote.
In fact, in Microsoft’s case, it is beginning a campaign to require cloud communications for essential elements of any IoT device. Even when it doesn’t enhance the user experience. When Microsoft showed off its Cortana and Amazon Alexa integration onstage, it was clunky. The latency between asking Alexa to get Cortana to complete a task was tremendously long. You could feel every packet hop when the event speakers asked Alexa to ask Cortana to check a calendar or send an email.
Yet, this seems part of Microsoft’s vision for the voice world. Nadella spoke of making sure companies had a brand for their voice apps, which means he’s glad I’m asking Alexa to open Cortana for my Microsoft tasks or he doesn’t mind the consumer having to remember that Alexa is for my smart home gear while Cortana is for my office tasks. Given the difficulties we have separating our business and consumer lives, this seems like a confusing and arbitrary divide.
The integration is available for a limited preview now, and interested folks can sign up for an invite to try it here.