Cortana gets skilled up to fight Alexa

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Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Alexa platform now faces some healthy competition from Microsoft

Here’s What Cortana Will Do in Devices | Tom’s Guide

HP and Intel are building Cortana-powered devices | Engadget

HP is also building its own Cortana speaker | The Verge

More Cortana-powered devices are on the way from HP and Intel | Windows Central

Harman Kardon’s Invoke speaker is a Cortana-powered take on an Amazon Echo | The Verge

Microsoft shows how Cortana will work in speakers and cars | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Harman-Kardon

Invoke speaker

Product Page

Microsoft

Cortana Skills

Catalogue Page

Development Kit Web page

Windows Developer blog post (Skills Kit and Devices SDK)

Windows Developer blog post (Skills Kit)

My Comments

Amazon Alexa is now facing real competition from Microsoft’s Cortana.

More devices with Cortana

This is coming about through Microsoft making it easy for device manufacturers to add the Cortana voice-driven personal assistant to their designs, including allowing vehicle builders to integrate her in to their vehicles’ infotainment systems.

Harman-Kardon, now part of Samsung, have premiered the Invoke smart speaker which is driven by Cortana while HP and Intel have registered interest in building Cortana-driven devices. Even BMW and Nissan have registered interest in integrating Cortana in their vehicles’ infotainment systems, most likely something that will be offered as an option.

The Creators Update build of Windows 10 IoT Core edition will have integrated Cortana support, but Microsoft has released the Cortana Devices SDK to make it feasible to have Cortana on more devices from other device manufacturers. It is also worth knowing that this functionality also extends to providing Skype IP telephony support to these devices, placing Cortana and Alexa on an even footing.

Microsoft are taking this concept further by making it feasible to “carry” an action between Cortana-equipped devices. The example cited in the press coverage highlighted a situation where an email comes in while you are driving. Here, you could instruct her to read a summary of this email to you or to remind you about it when you log in to your Windows-equipped regular computer at the office so you can read and reply to it there.

Ability to develop more Skills for Cortana

As well Microsoft have made available a development kit so that online services and Internet-Of-Things vendors can add “skills” to Cortana as they could with Alexa. But these will allow the Skills to run on multiple devices and cater to devices that implement different user interfaces. For example, you could implement a restaurant-recommendations Skill in to Cortana and ask her for a list of local eateries of a particular cuisine kind. In this case, if your device has a screen, you would see a list of these eateries with a name and address while she reads out the names. Or she could simply read out their names in the order of locality and star-rating so you can simply book a table there.

Of course, there is the ability for those of us who have created Skills for the Amazon Alexa ecosystem to easily port them to the Cortana ecosystem. Here, a developer could get things going so that their voice-driven online-service or device interface program can run on both an Amazon Echo or a Cortana-based device.

The question that is yet to arise is how Alexa and Cortana will compete with each other on the capabilities, user interfaces, number of Skills, number of devices supporting each platform and other aspects.

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