Xbox Insiders get Alexa and Cortana speaker support

In 2013, the original Xbox One was bundled with the futuristic voice-assisted Kinect camera, which allowed you to control your TV via the console's IR blaster while incorporating voice navigation across the entire OS. The bungled bundling inflated the console's retail price, however, leading Microsoft to eventually drop Kinect from the package, and later, from development altogether.

One of the most frustrating things about the death of Kinect was the loss of voice commands for those who upgraded to an unsupported Xbox One S or Xbox One X and weren't fast enough to snap up the now-discontinued Kinect USB adapter (opens in new tab). Thankfully, we're getting some of that functionality back, starting today.

Xbox, Alexa, Cortana and you

As we exclusively revealed, Amazon Alexa and Cortana devices, such as the Amazon Echo (opens in new tab) and the Harman/Kardon Invoke (opens in new tab), will now be able to receive and send voice commands to your Xbox One console. Although it'll only be available for a subset of Xbox Insiders in the U.S. for the time being, it should roll out more broadly as we head towards the next major OS release, or "Redstone 5," this fall.

Xbox integration with Alexa and Cortana is simply a skill you can activate on either of those platforms. Once you have signed in and set it up via your Amazon account, it automagically connects to your Xbox console over the internet. While it probably won't be as speedy as the 2013's native Kinect voice commands, it will at least be supported and give users a wider range of options for interacting with their consoles. And you won't need a pricey Alexa or Cortana speaker to get this working; you'll be able to use it via the associated mobile phone apps on Android and iOS, or a Windows 10 PC. It should even work on Windows 10 Mobile.

The new skills actually have a few tricks that even Kinect didn't have, since they don't require the Xbox to actually be turned on to work. Standard things like adjusting volume, launching apps, taking screenshots and clips, and starting Mixer broadcasts, will all function as you would expect. However, moving beyond even Kinect's capabilities, you'll be able to say "Cortana, start Rocket League," and your speaker will boot up your console, sign in, and launch the game from a powered-off state. For some commands, it seems that you'll have to say "Alexa, tell Xbox to" as the initial command, to avoid overlapping commands like "turn up the volume."

How can you get it?

Xbox One

Xbox One (Image credit: Windows Central)

The features will remain in beta so Microsoft can work out the kinks and bugs, but if you're an Xbox Insider and you want to get started, here's how. Microsoft says it will roll out gradually for Insiders over time, likely starting with the Alpha ring.

4 reasons to join the Xbox Insider Program

Xbox voice support for Cortana

Just follow these steps:

  1. Head over to here (opens in new tab) to activate the new Cortana Xbox skill for your Microsoft account.
  2. Now, you should be able to begin issuing commands to any Cortana device that shares the same Microsoft account.
  3. Say "Hey Cortana, ask Xbox what can I say?" for suggested commands.

Xbox voice support for Alexa

Just follow these steps:

  1. Head over to here (opens in new tab) to activate the new Alexa Xbox skill for your Amazon and Microsoft account.
  2. Alexa should then attempt to discover your Xbox, follow the instructions on the skill's page to get set up.
  3. Say "Alexa, ask Xbox what can I say?" for suggested commands.

A long time coming

Why it has taken this long to bring this functionality back to Xbox is bewildering, but at least it's here. Cortana support for Xbox was announced a couple of years back, but it finally looks like Microsoft is actually capitalizing on making the feature useful, while enlisting the help of Amazon to bring voice commands to devices you may already own. Our previous information seemed to indicate Google Assistant support was on the way too, but for whatever reason, it hasn't made it into this release. For Google Assistant fans, a Microsoft spokesperson responded to let us know that the company is always evaluating additional features, and will listen to user feedback.

You can grab an Alexa-powered Echo Dot for as little as $49 (opens in new tab) on Amazon, and the pricier, but more powerful Harman Kardon Invoke clocks in at around $100 (opens in new tab) via the Microsoft Store. If you're a Sonos fan, the Alexa-powered $200 (opens in new tab) Sonos One will also work and is a great option.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • With how closely Amazon and Microsoft have been working, I wonder why they didn't just add "Xbox" as a trigger word for Alexa and Cortana that would default to the Xbox mode. Thankfully, I have a Kinect, but I would get really tired of saying "Alexa, tell Xbox to turn up the volume". Feels like when you're in high school fighting with your friend, and you get your other friend to pass messages back and forth.
  • lol
  • Probably because of branding
  • lol
  • Actually, when you add it, it doesn't only work in skill mode... it also adds your xbox as a smart home device, so you can control it just like any other smart home device with more natural language. Here are a few examples I can think of "Alexa, make my xbox louder", "Alexa, mute my xbox", or even "Alexa, launch skype on the living room xbox"... of course, using the "ask xbox" or "tell xbox" syntax will also be available, but to me, the smart home integration is the real winner here. Also, remember you can name your smart home devices, which includes your xbox (particularly in case you have more than one in your home).
  • Thanks for the reply! I have a home full of smart bulbs and switches, but for whatever reason, I never thought to try that syntax for my Harmony. I wonder how many things I can do that I didn't realize!
  • Haha too true
  • Almost finally!!! I hope they put the Xbox trigger back. I have the Kinect and the HK Invoke. Since both are triggered by the word Cortana it can be a bit messy.
  • Because Microsoft and ALL OTHER COMPANIES with assistants are clueless. I've said many times that what none of them do correctly is INTEGRATE their assistants' multiple presences.
  • Actually, this is something that Alexa handles really well. All 4 of my Echo devices at home are within hearing distance of one another, and it's very seldom that the closest one is not the one to respond. Also, you can tell one device to control another (e.g. I'm in the kitchen, I can say something like "Alexa, play rain sounds in the bedroom" if the baby wakes up and needs to go back to sleep.
  • Not working as well for me. Mine are in different rooms and it is not unusual to set an egg timer in the kitchen only to have the living room echo accept that task. Unfortunately that means the living room timer is the one that speaks up at the end and when you are in the kitchen and say turn off timer, that one will tell you there are no timers set, while the living room keeps sounding off.
  • First, we have a Kinect, and it works great with Cortana commands. Always has. Second, I refuse to use Alexa. Third, every single device we have has Cortana on it, so we have access to Cortana virtually anywhere we are, so why buy another stupid device? More likely, I am expecting to see Microsoft gradually kill Cortana completely, but until then we're going to continue to rely on Cortana exclusively.
  • Wait, did you read this article? It says you can use any device with cortana already. You don't need to buy the invoke. "And you won't need a pricey Alexa or Cortana speaker to get this working; you'll be able to use it via the associated mobile phone apps on Android and iOS, or a Windows 10 PC. It should even work on Windows 10 Mobile."
  • Where in that quote does it imply any intent to incorporate anything new into existing Kinect/Cortana capabilities. I'm frustrated by MS disenfranchising customers who made the effort to go get Kinect capabilities on their XBOX Ones, in spite of MS (they didn't make it easy), only to be dismissed until they could 'partner' with Amazon.
  • Sorry if it wasn't clear, I'm replying to the part where he asks why do we have to buy another device and the quote states specifically that you can use existing devices like your pc or phone too.
  • "First, we have a Kinect, and it works great with Cortana commands"
    Anyone who bought an Xbox post-2016 does not have a Kinect. Anyone who cares about how their setup looks in 2018 would never want a Kinect.
    "Second, I refuse to use Alexa."
    k. I refuse decaf coffee.
    "so why buy another stupid device?"
    Taking a stab in the dark here but the market has revealed some people want smart speakers for their home? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Cortana is worthless on my Xbox one x. It worked great on my old one, but commands are so unresponsive that I hardly use it. Not sure if this development will help in that regard, but if it does thannit will be a welcome surprise.
  • I've found that I have to walk up to the Kinect on the TV for Cortana to be as responsive as she is on my phone.
  • Sounds like you need to run the Kinect calibration again...
  • Definitely sounds like you need to redo calibration setup
  • "For Google Assistant fans, a Microsoft spokesperson responded to let us know that the company is always evaluating additional features, and will listen to user feedback."
    "Don't hold your breath."
  • Yeh this is ridiculous.
  • This is almost the full nail for the Kinect, I'm guessing they will either continue to push 3rd party cameras or come out with an xbox brand camera for the next console to tie it all in with Skype and streaming. Guess I can turn off cortana on the xbox for now since I have an Invoke in the same room.
  • I haven't been able to grt it to work for me yet and haven't been able to try it out but I have a question about this that maybe someone can answer. I have multiple Xbox's in my house (living room, game room, bedroom, etc) and my question is if this feature is tied only to your "home" or if it can work with multiple consoles using the console name feature. If not I sure hope that is a feature in the works.
  • Is MS still developing Cortana!
    It works remarkable well for me
  • Looks like Invoke is only available from small 3rd party sellers now on Amazon.