Amazon Echo's Alexa can now read your Microsoft calendar

Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo's Alexa just got a little smarter with the ability to keep an eye on your Microsoft account calendar. As first spotted by The Digital Lifestyle, Alexa can now be connected to your Microsoft account for keeping track of upcoming meetings and other events on your calendar.

Echo Microsoft Account Integration

All you have to do to get started is head into the settings portion of the Alexa app or website (opens in new tab) and click on Calendar. From there, you'll see the option to connect either a Google or Microsoft account. Just click on the Microsoft option and you'll be prompted to log in and give the necessary permissions for the integration to work.

Using an Amazon Echo with Windows 10 is easy!

Previously, only Google accounts were supported, so this is a big deal for anyone who relies on Microsoft's ecosystem for managing their various calendars. And while it is possible to migrate Outlook calendars over to Gmail, not everyone is willing or able to abandon Outlook for the sake of Echo integration.

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Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl

  • Hey! Awesome. I still probably wont get an echo but this makes to more appealing.
  • This is awesome, J just linked my account. Had a little problem signing in the first time, but closed the app and retried and it worked. I hope they add Wunderlist integration soon!
  • Making it hard for me not to buy it.
  • Go for it! The dot is super cheap (~50 USD) but you can also demo Alexa online using the online simulator at Note, echosim is a psuedo-official Amazon service but not technically owned by Amazon last I checked but it should be enough to try Alexa out.
  • That must have been a bitter pill for Amazon to swallow. Shocking that they didn't go with Apple ID support before MSA.
  • Amazon is all about delighting its customers. I imagine Apple support is on Amazon's mind too!
  • That's good to hear and a step closer to what I really want...which is Cortana in a digital assistant.  My Dot is good for playing music, but not much else.  I'd like to text, make reminders, appointments, etc.  It's nice that I can use ITTT for some options, it's not ideal. 
  • "Not much else"-- wow. Had ours since April 2016. I'm embarrassed to say we use it to shut off various lights in the house (especially at night), turn on the garage heater early in the morning, set alarms while we are cooking, answer Wikipedia-ish questions, order pizza and Uber, etc. It's to the point where you "expect" the TV to turn the volume down by asking Alexa to handle it for you. Ridiculous, scary, and effective all at once.
  • My 5 year old has got to the point he walks into his room and asks Alexa to turn his light on - knowing full well I haven't got around to smarten up his room yet.
  • You're right, I was unintentionally unfair. I don't have a smart home at this point, so my options for Alexa are much more limited than yours. I envision getting there at some point, which was part of why I wanted Alexa. My original point in posting wasn't to disparage Alexa but rather state my desire for a Cortana device since I use Cortana services.
  • Ahh I see. Yeah, home tech moves way too fast to be locked in to one platform. And the good stuff integrates well anyway. Alexa is such a thing --Cortana's integration capability looks like the W10M app store vs. Alexa's -- not even close, and the gap expands every day.
    Both my parents and my wife's bought them and quickly added smarthome tech to it. Both in their mid-70's, and both did it as first timers. That's saying something. Go get one (perhaps a $25 smart plug) and play.
  • W10M doesn't have an app store but W10 does. Further, W10 supports the AllJoyn Alliance, platform API's and recently, they opened up service API's directly to developers. Prior to that point, Microsoft worked directly with partners to enable service integration. So, as it relates to interoperability and integration, Cortana is actually more open and accessible than Alexa is. Alexa's portfolio of skills is currently a strength. They deserve all the credit in the world for that.
    But that doesn't inherently mean that Alexa is any more capable of integration than Cortana and W10 is. On the contrary, Cortana supports a full interaction and configuration model for W10, iOS and Android for a wide array of enterprise and consumer services. It also includes hardware form factor support for mobile, PC, Xbox One, the Surface Hub, connected cars, speakers and nearly anything that will run W10 (just about anything). Alexa provides configuration support for iOS, Android and through a web interface. Interaction support is currently limited to the Echo, the Dot and one or two hardware OEMs with more in the pipeline.
    For a select part of the population, Alexa is a great product. If it works for you, more power to you. Amazon has very effectively tapped into a developer community with a comprehensive and cohesive strategy. They also have a great marketing campaign. But with that said, you should be under no illusion that Cortana is limited to a walled garden with platform lock in. If anything, the reverse is true. Cortana is more accessible and extensible than any other AI assistant on the market. That doesn't mean it will succeed but that is for the market to decide.
  •   Cortana maybe technically superior, but it is losing in a major way. Its primary surface area is windows 10, yet users just aren't engaging with it. Its secondary surface area is Microsoft edge, where the few users of the browser actually extend it accordingly.  Its tertiary surface area is Xbox one, where most users opt to forgo getting a Kinect. So it is not nearly as functional. Three strikes, Cortana appears to be out.   
  • As of July, 2016, Cortana had over 100 million monthly active users on Windows 10 with some estimates being as high as 133 million across all platforms. 25% of all searches through Cortana are voice queries. This means that approximately one third of Windows 10 users are using Cortana on a regular basis. Ref: According to AYTM, AI assistant usage breaks down as follows: 1. Siri 45%
    2. Google Now 33%
    3. Cortana 27%
    4. Alexa 10% Ref: According to Activate, AI assistant usage is 51% in automobiles and 39% in the home. This is probably why Microsoft has included Cortana as an option for the Azure Connected Vehicle Program. This includes expanded partnerships with Nissan and BMW specifically for Cortana. The underlying platform supports many other automotive partners. Ref: So, when you say that Cortana is, "losing in a major way", I can only assume that this is based on something other than actual usage statistics and industry analysis. I will assume that you based your analysis on anecdotes and confirmation bias. Try data next time. It usually works out better.
  • Comparing apples to apples, since all Alexa searches are voice-based,  that would put Cortana in a solid fifth place. Also known as last place. Also known as "losing.".   And only one of these providers is really doing it in the home… And we all know which one that is.   But that's OK… If you are still using a Windows phone, you are one of the 0.3%.  So ignoring reality can sometimes  be a fun place to be. 
  • Your original comment wasn't unfair. All of the use cases that you mention are completely valid. Home automation is one part of using an AI assistant but it should be extensible into a wide array of other services as well. You aren't disparaging Alexa by stating that it doesn't support the services that you want to use it for. You are simply stating a fact that is based on your personal preferences.
  • Just got an echo dot and wondering when it would link to my outlook calendar.  I can finally ask Alexa what's on my calendar!  
  • These assistants will only be useful to me when they can distinguish multiple users
  • These things are rather useless, just like smartwatches. 
  • You've obviously never used one.
  • Seriously! Whichever company can solve this issue will "win" the digital assistant war. Until then they are of little use for a family of more than one.
  • Cortana is already half way there in that you respond to only your voice on a given device. I guess that it's up to the OEMs to make something out of that.
  • I also think that a digital assistant needs to be able to pull dates from emails and the like and automatically create calendar entries for those dates. That and I feel like a vast number of features of Cortana either don't work or aren't what I expect them to be. For instance the food section of the notebook asks what food you like and when you usually eat lunch. Now I would assume this means that when it comes close to your usual lunch time Cortana will pipe up and let you know that X food interest is in such and such location nearby. This has never, ever happened. In fact outside of telling me when to leave for work Cortana has never been proactive about anything.
  • I believe the lunch inquiry has to do with scheduling things on your calendar
  • You can switch profiles on the Echo. Honestly though, we just set our up on my account and link everything to the "family" calendars and so on.
  • Does it recognise individual voices, or can anybody add events to your outlook calendar, that's my question....
  • Anyone who has physical access to your Echo device can read your calendars and add events to your default write calendar.
  • That's my fear, although a step in the right direction, this alone discounts the desire to get one for me
  • I wonder if Alexa can *add* events to an Outlook Calendar. Cortana on Android still cannot as far as I can tell (can only add to Google Calendar).
  • Yes it can! Go to the Alexa app, then settings, then calendar, and finally "Microsoft". Link your account, make sure your desired calendars are "selected" in the app, and then go back to the calendar settings (settings >> calendar). In the dropdown you should see your Microsoft calendars. Select your desired "write" calendar. Once selected give it a moment and then ask "Alexa, add an event to my calendar".
  • That is great! Even if it's a little embarrassing that Amazon could figure out how to make their AI add to Outlook Calendars while Microsoft hasn't with Cortana on Android yet. Oh well, it's another reason I am still on Windows 10 Mobile. :)
  • What does this have to do with AI? I hate to break it to you but this is a function of application and service permissions. Outlook, and by extension, Office 365 provides robust developer support for extensions. So, Amazon utilized Microsoft's developer API's to enable access to the Outlook calendar for Alexa. I can only assume that they will extend this in the future. When they do, they will use Microsoft supported API's. Conversely, Cortana on Android is limited to platform and service restrictions. There is only so much that they can do outside of forking Android and replacing Google services with their own.
  • Yep, understood this is not an AI issue but rather a connected service issue. Also understood that Amazon used Microsoft's APIs. Using those same APIs would not be a problem for Microsoft either. I also imagine that Android has some platform and service restrictions that make it harder for Microsoft to develop Cortana for Android than for Windows 10 Mobile. But I don't imagine those restrictions make such functionality impossible. For example, Cortana for Android can add items to Wunderlist with no problem. ("Add peanuts to grocery list.") And if Android's platform restrictions are in fact too prohibitive, I imagine Microsoft could bypass them via the cloud. It's already possible to add Outlook as a Connected App for Cortana on Android; I have it set up on my Moto. But adding events to Outlook with Cortana on Android doesn't seem to be working. Maybe it's just me and my phone, although I have yet to hear anyone confirm they got it working on Android either. That Cortana on Android allows me to add Outlook as a connected app (when she responds "Am I looking at the wrong calendar? Help me set it up" after I ask "What's on my calendar for today" and she replies "There isn't anything") leads me to suspect Microsoft has in fact started implementing such functionality but hasn't completed it yet.
  • I could see that. I would have to try it out on my daughter's Nexus. But I wouldn't say that backend service integration between Alexa and Outlook is comparable to setting up Cortana Outlook integration on Android. The level of effort for setting up end to end integration on another platform will always be higher than setting up a backend service connector for your own platform. Functionally, it is just another data source for the Alexa.
  • I see your point; it is easier for Amazon since Alexa is running off their own fork of Android, whereas Microsoft's Cortana for Android is running off of Google's Android. Makes sense. If you get it working on your daughter's Nexus, please let me know as it would indicate that I'm doing something wrong. The interesting thing is Cortana on Android seems to be able to sort of "see" my Outlook Calendar--e.g., when it shows my timeline for today, it shows hours blocked out for Outlook Calendar events. But when I then ask Cortana on Android, "What's on my calendar for today," she replies "You don't have anything scheduled for today," which appears to me to be some sort of bug. Meanwhile, Cortana on W10M correctly answers "You have 1 event Today" and lists it. And of course, she has no problem with "Add call Frank today at 5 pm" to my Outlook calendar.
  • Yes, that is basically what I'm driving at but I don't know what platform the Echo and Dot runs. I assumed that it is a fork of a Linux distro. I'll let you know if I get it working but I think that Cortana is still considered to be beta on Android and iOS. Getting everything to work fluidly with either platform would be like changing the tires on a moving car.
  • "And while it is possible to migrate Outlook calendars over to Gmail..." It's is also possible to migrate your Gmail account over to Outlook.... Just sayin'. 🙂
  • Is there a problem if you have set up two step authentication for your Microsoft account? BTW, those who criticise the Echo ought to get one first. I love mine.
  • Nope, works just fine.
  • Every time I attempt to set this up I get "Could not retrieve calendar settings.  Please try again later."
  • Try using the webapp rather than the iOS app (at least that's what worked for pal of mine with the same issue).
  • Just what I've been waiting for. Go Amazon Echo
  • It won't get me to Buy it
  • Sure, but it got you to comment on it!
  • Linked.. Awesome:D
  • Does this work with the Tap?
  • Error. Account type not supported. Probably because my account has not been updated. Wtf Microsoft.
  • I know I'm dreaming but if Alexa would support Groove (yeah, a direct competitor to Prime Music so it wouldn't happen) that'd be perfect.
  • They could also release an app for Windows 10 so that Prime Music would be accessible to hundreds of millions of customers. I would probably try it if they did but as it is, Microsoft will continue to get my money for a Groove Music Pass and Amazon's services portfolio will be soundly out of reach. I guess that is their way of delighting customers.
  • I'm a Prime customer but I find it increasingly difficult to justify that. Delight is definitely not the first word that I think of when I think about Amazon but that could just be me.
  • 2-day shipping, unlimited photo storage, 5% cashback with the credit card...those are my justifications :)
  • 2 day shipping can be 3-4 days at times. Unlimited photo storage doesn't do much for me when they do not support UWP apps for Windows 10. I am not using an Amazon credit card for cash back. I have one credit card that I use for travel. That is all I need or want. As it stands, the only benefits that I can use are Amazon Video on Xbox One and 2 day shipping. With 2 day shipping being inconsistent, the value proposition goes down significantly. They are not obliged to support all customers and platforms equally but that doesn't mean that I will continue to pay for benefits that I am unable to utilize. In the current state, there is no chance that I would buy an Alexa device. They would need to become a member of the AllJoyn Alliance and provide deep integration for Microsoft services and platforms. I will give them props for using Bing as their search engine provider but their natural language search isn't as robust as Cortana.
  • My Alexa iOS app linked to Outlook right away. I am concerned, though, with the popup message which said "Do you wish for the app to access your calendars/emails/contacts/phone info/etc? These can be changed later in the settings." I looked briefly in the privacy settings but didn't see the breach. Any pointers appreciated in just allowing Alexa to see the Outlook calendars.
  • Nice. Just I assume? No exchange?
  • Nice. One can tell that Amazon's Alexa AI is pulling away from both Microsoft's Cortana and iOS' Siri, by the sheer amount of OEM third party devices that plug into Alexa/Amazon's Echo,  that were on view during this past CES trade show.   Who knew even two years ago, that Amazon, in both cloud computing *and* the AI areas, would end up becoming one of Microsoft's largest competitors.