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Microsoft partners with Amazon for smart home

Microsoft wants to make sure its Cortana personal assistant isn’t dropped at the door when users get home from work. The software giant is partnering with Amazon to integrate Cortana with Amazon Echo, the retail giant’s smart home device. Users will be able to summon Cortana by talking to Echo’s personal assistant, Alexa, and will also be able to summon Alexa by talking to Cortana.

Cortana is strong in workplace-related functionality, like scheduling meetings via voice commands. Alexa is stronger for home-based tasks, like controlling smart TVs with voice commands. Of course, Alexa is also able to help users shop on Amazon. But she’s not super-helpful for getting through the workday, and that’s where Cortana comes in.

“It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in a blog post. “There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience.”

The combination also gives both Amazon and Microsoft a stronger competitive position in the fight to control the smart home. Their biggest competitor is Google, which offers voice control of smart home devices through its Google Home assistant. Recently, both Google and Amazon gave their personal assistants limited ability to make phone calls. Google has also announced a partnership with Walmart to add voice-activated shopping to Google Home, taking direct aim at Amazon’s core business. With a voice-activated smart home and shopping assistant, combined with its dominant position on personal computers and many smartphones, Google is well positioned to control user experiences as people move from one device to the next. Amazon’s partnership with Microsoft gives both companies a way to counter that threat.

“Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments, and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

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