Skip to main content

Microsoft wants Cortana to complement, not compete with, Alexa and Google Assistant

Cortana may not have seen the same sort of success as digital assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant, but Microsoft now sees those platforms as an opportunity for success, not competitors. At a media event reported by Business Insider (via OnMSFT), Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that the company wants to position Cortana as a skill for Alexa and Google Assistant, opening up valuable integrations for Office 365 subscribers.

In his remarks, Nadella dismissed the idea of competing with Alexa directly. Rather, he cited Cortana's potential as a valuable skill:

Would it be better off, for example, to make Cortana a valuable skill that someone who is using Alexa can call? Or should we try to compete with Alexa? We, quite frankly, decided that we would do the former. Because Cortana needs to be that skill for anyone who is a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber.

And while Microsoft and Google aren't exactly known for working together, Nadella was open to making Cortana available through Google Assistant as well:

And you should also be able to use [Cortana] on Google Assistant. You should be able to use it on Alexa, just like you use our apps on Android or iOS. So that's at least how we want to go.

Speaking further, Nadella acknowledged that Microsoft missed the boat on penetrating the smart speaker market. If it were to enter with its own speaker now, Nadella explained, it would have to come up with something truly unique:

We are very mindful of the categories we enter where we can do something unique. A good one is speakers. To me the challenge is, exactly what would we be able to do in that category that is going to be unique?

Microsoft's strategy with Cortana is similar to its strategy on mobile in recent years. Rather than competing directly with Apple and Google in the smartphone space, Microsoft has shifted to providing its services as apps across its former competitors. Indeed, Microsoft is now looking to reposition Cortana even in its own products as the AI backbone across its services.

While Microsoft does have at least one Cortana-powered smart speaker on the market, the Harman Kardon Invoke, it never managed to take off. On the other side, Amazon and Google have managed to stake a claim on a significant portion of the market with their ecosystems of smart speakers and displays. Cortana is also generally more limited in its skillset than Alexa and Google Assistant – though it is tightly integrated with Microsoft's own services.

Microsoft has already started working hand-in-hand with Amazon, bringing Cortana and Alexa closer together and allowing Echo devices to interact with Xbox One consoles. Whether Google and Microsoft can work out a similar partnership remains to be seen.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to daniel.thorp-lancaster@futurenet.com.

77 Comments
  • It seems like a little thing but I would really like Google Assistant to be able to tell me my calendar events for the day, which are hosted in either Office365 or Outlook.com. I can't simply share the calendars because the Google account email and the Outlook.com email are the same, so I can't get the sharing request into Google Calendar. Alternatively if Google Assistant can't access my calendars directly, I would settle for Google asking Cortana to relay them to me, as long as I can still put it into a routine. It's a tangent from the article, but I'm already past that Microsoft should do this - they blew their chance to compete directly - and onto how I want it implemented.
  • This makes no sense, why would you need an assistant inside your assistant? They are phasing Cortana out, it is just a matter of time.
  • How are they phasing it out??
    It's the main assistant on Windows OS that's built into the OS itself.
    It's also available on other platforms through its own apps and you can even use it as a skill on other assistants.
    IMO, that's what you do when you want to grow your assistant.
    That's the complete opposite of phasing it out.
  • For starters, Cortana is not part of the search box on the task-bar anymore (Insider Preview). Bing and Cortana have already been separated. So searches bypass Cortana. That said, my HK seems to be a waste. I know I can run Alexa on it. But it is like, Hey Cortana, Open Alexa. And then then you go from there. I do like that you don't have to say Hey anymore on the HK speaker. Just "Cortana" works and is more natural to say, "Cortana, remind me...."
  • Separating it from system search has nothing to do with that.
  • It has everything to do with it. If Microsoft had high hopes for Cortana in the future, they would be increasing her impact, not decreasing it. They would have speakers and devices at low prices to drive adoption. Without all that, Cortana is basically in hospice.
  • I feel like you're over reacting. The direction that Microsoft is taking Cortana is to make her as service, and to have her function more as an assistive presence. Cortana is still on other platforms, they've given more assistive features on the Xbox, There's the surface headphones, but the most important aspect is how Microsoft is adding her further into their cognitive services. If we're going to bring Halo lore into, Cortana was known for inserting her mind into various systems components and tech, in order to control them and become more useful to Master Chief, that's the approach MS is taking, Like everything else.
  • Bleached is spot on here. Cortana is dead. Even Forbes is calling her "more dead than alive". We can fool ourselves into believing otherwise. But Cortana is as dead as Windows mobile was just prior to the infamous Belfiore tweet.
  • You are confusing a mere peon assistant with AI... Cortana as an assistant might die... As an AI heck no...
  • I looks like you keep hammering that everything need to be low priced, no matter what. By that standard, the iPhone would have never been a success.
    Stop reaching.
  • The only way Microsoft can compete is on price. They aren't going to beat Google or Amazon any other way.
  • They could compete on integration. Particularly integration between with games consoles and smart devices. Imagine an Xbox connection to a smart lighting system using Cortana. You could light up the room based on whatever is on the screen at the time or instruct Cortana to dim the lights when you start playing.
  • > they would be increasing her impact
    Alexa or GA users get to access Microsoft's services and devices, 1) can make existing users happy and 2) can help bringing in more customers into the ecosystem. Same thing MS's trying to achieve with Office, OneNote, xCloud/GamePass for PC/phones and adaptive controller. The more one invest (time == game save, data & money = purchase, game lib), the lesser chance one can leave.
  • From the article, Cortana will only exist inside Office 365. The "consumer" side of Cortana will basically disappear.
  • Maybe you're right, but from current attitude of the company, I think Cortana will play a very big role in all Microsoft future products, software and hardware.
  • Hard to argue with people that don't comprehend what they read. Read the article again. CEO of Microsoft said Cortana will only be supported in Office 365. Not trying to be mean.
  • You do realize that O365 is more than just office apps, yes?
  • Stop reading warditorials :P
  • To be fair, you didn't read it ether. He didn't say she's only going to be available only on office. His overall point was he wants to her abilities to of use outside of the realm of just a personal assistant. Office 365, is a service that works on more platforms than just windows, he mentioned wanting to use her with Google Assistant, His end game is to make Cortana a service that is plaform and product agnostic, which is where most of their software has already gone
  • "Because Cortana needs to be that skill for anyone who is a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber" Yes it will be platform agnostic. But only for Office 365. In other words it will be useful for Outlook, Calendar, Word, etc. Not so much for consumer things such as "What's the score of a certain game." "Give me directions to here" etc.
  • Or I'm a developer and I use Cortana's api to make it easier for you to order a pizza. Or on the xbox, issuing more voice commands instead of kinect. Augmenting more functions of Edge into your phone, even if you're using Google. In context Office 365 is the example he's using.. but then you'd know that if you put the entire quote "Would it be better off, for example, to make Cortana a valuable skill that someone who is using Alexa can call? Or should we try to compete with Alexa? We, quite frankly, decided that we would do the former. Because Cortana needs to be that skill for anyone who is a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber."
  • Outlook, Word, Publisher, PowerPoint, Excel, Access, SharePoint, Power BI, Sway, office lens, power apps, flow, teams,... All part of the O365 stack. Heck, even Dynamics and Outlook customer manager are fully integrated with O365. Pair that with Cortana machine learning and AI and Cortana is set to become massively powerful.
    It is just not a consumer gimmick.
  • No, Alexa and Assistant are set to be powerful. Cortana is set to just be a skill for those assistants to tie into Office. That won't be a popular service, there are minimal reasons to use an assistant in office.
  • Because Cortana is being built directly into their core apps. If you want Alexa to have better access to their core apps then you allow Alexa to use Cortana. Think of Cortana as more of a "behind the scenes" A.I. that increases productivity.
  • Why the middleman? Why the complication?
  • bleached Isn't there a golf course somewhere you could be weeding by hand right now?
  • My own yard is tough enough.
  • He's got a low end Android device from 2014. I think it's a Samsung "Eco", or some BS like that. That's why he's mad at MS, and anyone who likes MS. He's made because even WP, as crappy as it is, is better than his free on contract Android device.... Ask him what device he uses, and he won't reply. It's the only way to get him to stfu.
  • One Plus 6T. It is awesome. The only issue I have is with the screen, it is a down grade from my S8.
  • Prove it.... You live with your mom, and McDonald's doesn't pay enough.. Please, you're a troll. Prove it, or keep your mouth closed.
  • I traded in my ancient Motorola, the 6T only cost $250. Even a McDonald's job would cover it, especially if I lived with my parents.
  • where the **** do you live that a 6T costs $250
  • It's not Bleached that is screwing MS fans in the butt. It's Nadella. Nadella was clear... he's turning Cortana into an Alexa "skill". Don't blame Bleached for calling them out on that. You're the **** for believing in a company that sold their "soul" to Wall Street. Not Bleached.
  • It's not the fact of whether he is wrong or right.. It's that he is annoying. Don't take up for burdens.
  • Don't always agree with him. But in this instance he's spot on. Nadella is demoting Cortana from a platform to an Alexa "skill", and there's simply no sugarcoating that. Nadella is just doing what he does best... kill things.
  • Cortana offers nothing that cannot be done with Alexa or google assistant. Alexa uses Bing for searching, they really should have gone with Google search engine.
  • One needs to look past the consumer side of things...
  • It they don't mean to compete, what does that mean for Invoke, GLAS, or using Cortana as a standalone on a PC? At least on GLAS you can use other assistants and they have the Alexa app for PC, but I guess creating features useful to the Invoke is going to fall off this year.
  • I hope we can still use Cortana as we do now in the future. Thurrott's article on this topic made it seem that they are killing off Cortana.
  • This is certainly the first announcement they are killing Cortana. These aren't statements you make about a device you plan on being around very long.
  • Bleached and a ticked off Thurrott (wasnt' invited) making predictions about products. Won't be taking those to the bank.
  • Have you not been paying attention? It isn't a leap to think that will Microsoft will soon move on from Cortana.
  • Haha I saw that in his article about not being invited. Took it as a playful joke, but maybe he was upset?
  • You can't insert your AI into competitors' AIs if yours is dead.
  • Except, it isn't a device. It is a service woven in deeply into Microsoft's software stack.
  • So basically those Surface headphones are now half useful. Just embrace Google Assistant and be done with it. Might get some new users.
  • Told you Daniel Rubino!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go back and look at the 2016 post where I told you this day would come and when..... now.
  • He had an article just months ago saying Cortana isn't dead. He has already be proven wrong.
  • Can't say that I am even a little bit surprised but I am still extremely disappointed. I picked up an Invoke recently when it hit $50 since it was worth more than that as just a Bluetooth speaker but I have found that I use Cortana more than I expected I would, mostly since they integrated with To Do. As for making Cortana available through other assistants, what's the point? Cortana is just the AI front-end for the Microsoft Graph. Why not just create a skill for the Microsoft Graph for the other assistants and call it a day. I still have no interest in the Google ecosystem (though I will be moving to Android this year) but it would be much more intuitive to talk to whichever assistant I adopt if (when) my Invoke stops working and ask it questions about my graph data than it would to ask it to open Cortana and then adapt to a completely different agent to complete the same interaction. Let the others do the hard work of perfecting the interaction, you just need to provide the data.
  • With every article i read from Windows Central regarding the Microsoft Eco-System I feel like I understand their vision less and less. But my gut says almost anything consumer facing is going away.
  • Their strategy for the last few years can be boiled down to this:
    - Increase recurring revenue via subscription based products and services.
    - Focus on B2B services and larger contracts that deliver more money.
    - Don't compete in consumer spaces unless we're already successful there.
    - Trim operating costs by reducing staff, reducing investments, and crowd-sourcing QA.
  • Nadella is not a techie. He's a businessman. He's a dickweed stiff in a suit. To him technology is not a passion... it's solely a means for profit. He can try to mask that by buying companies like GitHub and Xamarin... true techie companies... but he's a phony and he can't hide that forever. It eventually comes out. Like his F'd up words quoted above.
  • Lol you are a trip man... Read his curriculum... Nadela is probably the most techie CEO MS ever had... Maybe more than Gates... Just because he is not trying to compete on consumer markets Google and Apple are on is not a viable proof... Most consumer market when at maturity are already obsolete... Smartphone and basic assistant are old techs... Smartphones more than assistants... And MS doesn't deal in trendy obsolete techs... But hey you have the right stay with your belief while MS is climbing to the top of the tech companies once again and for decades to come...
  • One answer to Nadella's rhetorical question on what could we do that's unique would be full Xbox integration. Another related unique feature would be the Cortana name branding and connection to the Halo world, loved by millions. A third would be the very Windows application integration he's talking about giving to Alexa and Google. I'm not claiming any of those are necessarily going to transform the industry, but they are all unique points on which to forge niche dominance, then stitch them together into a growing market share... Has Nadella never read any Geoffrey Moore? Also, Nadella didn't say, "We only go into a market we know we can dominate." He said "We go into a market where we can do something unique." By his own metric, it's easily accomplished. So frustrating...
  • If they keep giving up on products, they'll have no products left. I think this is a BIG mistake. Who wants to have to use multiple assistants? Cortana can do more OS level tasks than 3rd party assistance, so why not just add the missing skills? Cortana had so much potential... :(
  • God Microsoft has the worst CEO must be a liberal
  • Are you serious right now? Nadella was the best thing to happen to Microsoft in a long time. Be constructive.
  • ??? Great way to somehow use personal views as an insult. Grow up.
  • Fact is conservatism is just liberals stuck a few decades or more in the past... No matter how you put it... Conservatives are by definition an ever losing team.... But that ain't the subject... With MS battling for first position for the biggest market capitalization a company ever had in the world... Calling Nadela a bad CEO is just being plain ignorant....
  • R. I. P. Cortana.
  • They should pull the trigger on Cortana.
  • This should not surprise anyone. Microsoft is focusing on its core business, where it is actually making LOADS of money. The world did not need a distant 4th place "personal assistant", just like it did not need a VERY distant 3rd place phone. Microsoft is not - and never has been - a consumer electronics company. Dabbling in phones/watches/music services/smart speakers/etc. was never going to be their strong suit. They just don't have the mass consumer mindshare. Imagine Apple deciding to compete in the Oracle/SQL Server market. Who would take them seriously? Or Cadillac jumping into the motorcycle market. Would anyone buy a prime rib dinner from McDonalds? Successful companies - and smart CEOs - know what their strengths are. You build on those strengths. You don't thrash about with phones/watches/music services/smart speakers/etc. just because others have these products. So Apple focuses on their ecosystem, and McDonalds focuses on hamburgers. Microsoft is focusing on what they do best: Business software/solutions/services.
  • The problem is @naddy6969, that MS made their fortune and their brand by being the company that transformed "personal" computers... aka computer hobbyists... into a multi-billion dollar powerhouse... in the enterprise. By screwing consumer developers in the butt over and over... they will certainly experience the same fate that IBM did when Microsoft brutally beat them down into a bloody pool of flesh. In the same way Google will, in due time, slay the mighty MS dragon. In fact in many ways they already have. The "hobbyist" Android developers will certainly destroy the p***y Nadella and MS as he does nothing but retreat... playing defense instead of innovating.
  • Bahaha (again I'm gonna die laughing if you continue)... MS is pumping out more patent than most companies in the world... Innovation is there bread and butter... Google apple amalzon pay MS patents left and right... Man get a clue it's laughable you ignorance about those companies.. You just see the mere end customer result which is the weakest link of the business... That's why Apple will 'ever be a long term serious competitor to any tech companies... They have nothing to show for beside an OS that just work on a few device and trendy device that will eventually go out of fashion... Apple is just brand equity and not much more... Google is a little bit better but have a long road uphill and to be fair a pretty weak OS when you are trying to be serious and honest... Android is Linux done wrong...
  • Not completely, but they have always had consumer hardware: mice/keyboards, the Sidewinder line of Joysticks, and lest we forget the Xbox. And just because there were not, does not mean they should start. Google did not start as a consumer electronics company, in fact they were very much like MS, make the software (Android) and let others build the hardware, but starting with the Chromecast, and Pixel phone lines they decided they ARE going to be a consumer electronics company. Amazon was an online retailer, now a cloud provider, and oh yeah, they also sell consumer electronics now. You need to change to become competitive, and Cortana was around before Alexia, they just didn't know what to do with her. Once Alexia caught on, they should have pushed to have Cortana devices to compete, but nope, they let Google come in and flood the market with their smart speakers. One more thing, MS had a huge advantage here, Walmart is not keen on selling Alexa devices, cause they come from their greatest threat. Probably the same with Target and other retailers. So MS could have partnered with them, have Cortana order things on Walmart, Target, and whoever else, and right there you make her competitive. But nope, Google comes in, and Walmart is now promoting their offerings and MS is NO WHERE to be found...
  • Say whatever you want to say, people. But in the end, from what Microsoft has done in the past, what is not in priority, is always ended up like this, and then in the scrap.
  • One thing has become absolutely clear to me... Microsoft is no longer developer friendly. It is a company concerned solely with it's OWN software... Office 365 specifically. Making Cortana a mere "skill" on another OS' platform? WTF!!!!!!!!!!! Microsoft should be spurned by all developers from here on out. Not only are they no longer developer friendly, under Nadella they seem to be developer HOSTILE. This may be good for MS in the short term. A sugar rush! Only because Wall Street traders are morons. But in the long run... screwing developers will come back to haunt MS. It's only a matter of time. These Wall Street gains of the recent year will come crashing down. You can't screw developers in the butt and expect no consequences.
  • 100% agree with you as a developer. Not going anywhere near Microsoft's products right now for my work. P.S.: Has anybody tried the latest Edge + Windows 10 virtual image directly from Microsoft for use with VirtualBox? Yeah...doesn't seem to work. My company would love to completely ditch supporting IE11 and Edge.
  • I've been running all their VM images without a problem. Talking about the 90 day evaluation VMs here.
  • Hmm, the latest VirtualBox (6.x) with the latest 90 day VM wasn't working for me (VirtualBox wasn't recognizing the disk). I had to find an older image to get it running.
  • You know this new Microsoft that wants to play all nice with everyone is cool to a point, but they are seriously losing out on ALL new platforms. If you already have Alexia or Google Now, why would you EVER bring up Cortana? It is only logical that you would allow Alexia/Google access to your Outlook account and just use them. Cortana is just going to end up another dead consumer facing MS product because they cannot be bothered to compete! They had Cortana on the Xbox One for how long? Before Alexia was even a thing. She was already able to do a lot. But it took them, what 3 years to release ONE speaker? Why not make a screen device that runs Windows 10 IoT and has access to the app store? Why not release more smart speakers? Again, as with Mobile, MS is TOTALLY missing the voice computing game, and this time they have NO ONE to blame but themselves. Microsoft is just going to be the Azure company, and will turn into IBM, just doing corporate solutions. Satya has done some good, and the stock price is up, but MS under him has seem to have lost its competitive spirit! You don’t have to go back to the old ways of trying to crush everyone, but geeze stop rolling over on just about EVERYTHING… Google and Amazon are releasing new speakers/devices like every few months, and MS is just letting them dominate that space and not even trying anymore! Cortana will be the next thing on the chopping block… I’m surprised he isn’t calling for Xbox games to run on the Playstation… Get your fight back Microsoft, or you will soon be forgotten. One final point, it’s small but sometimes the details matter. So, I was playing new Forza Horizon, and there is a GPS/Assistant in the car, and she is called “Anna” I think. Why not Cortana? If it was an Apple produced game, you can BET it would be called Siri. Way to promote your own product there guys!!!
  • "You don’t have to go back to the old ways of trying to crush everyone, but geeze stop rolling over on just about EVERYTHING". Truer words could not have been spoken. Are his balls bigger than peanuts? Is there even a trace of testosterone running through his veins. Seriously?
  • Real exclusive?! Some sort of picture that I'm trying to draw
  • I think this whole "I need a product that says Microsoft on it, inside and out" is a bit overblown. With a few exceptions, Microsoft has never been a company, that tries to sell you on a walled garden, ala apple, and that's one of the reasons, I myself prefer it. Making a platform, or service in which other devs or creators, make products and innovate is a better option in the long. You mention Azure, but Azure is the backbone of the all the consumer products you use today. Whether it's Xbox live, Game Pass, Office 365, Bing, One Drive, Sharepoint, Mixer....What hub of Data Centers do you think is making this all happen? It's also time to stop the windows mobile gripe. It great, I loved it, I was one of the last people to switch, still have my 950 XL somewhere, but the platform wasn't strong enough to last, it is the facts, let it go. That said, having Edge, having onedrive, having CORTANA, office, bing, bing translator, and Arrow on my oneplus 6T has been a godsend, and ties user to Microsoft's services, which is where the money is. From a business standpoint, if you're selling a service and you can extend those services on ANY platform, that is a better way to dominate, rather than making an object, and selling more of that one object that something else. If people and devs decide, hey, we need to take Microsoft's Cognitive services, (which is all Cortana really is) and develop them inside of Alexa or Google, MS wins, I don't get how that bothers people, because the speaker doesn't say MS on it? Xbox is a service now, period, and that's fine. Gamers have responded positively to the fact MS is giving them a CHOICE on how to enjoy content. Why should it bother people that soon I'll have the option to use my Xbox game pass on xbox, PC, OR mobile? Why should it bother people that Xbox encourages cross play on other consoles like switch or PS, when it gives one more reason for Devs to host their games on Azure servers , rather than AWS or google? Which in terms, makes it more likely for them to sign up with and pay for Visual Studio subscriptions and Dev Ops? MS became dominate, because it sold something that wasn't tied to just one device, like Apple. Lastly...Forza Horizon debuted in 2011, before Cortana was ever a thing outside of Halo. When Anna was introduced. Thus Anna had been part of the series. BTW, there's a Halo quest in Forza Horizon, where you drive through a training course simulating a Halo Mission...and the AI guiding you along the way in it....is Cortana
  • Microsoft need to add Alexa skills for all their IP's like To Do, Outlook, Calendar and Mail app etc... We already have an Xbox skill if they could add the others so I could see my agenda on my Echo show that would be great... A Cortana skill might actually be all we need to sync agenda and contact information etc from our MS accounts to Amazon... Skype support on Echo products works very well...
  • Actually, I was finding to know about Alexa app. But here I get to know more about this and google assistant. Thanks for sharing
  • Businesses only talk like this when they know they have an inferior product but are still willing to make minimal investments to try to either pay back the initial investment or to exploit some niche they're too cheap to develop themselves …, or to sell it off to anyone who meets their very minimal selling price. I'd be floating my c.v. to someone else if I were in, or about to be transferred to, the Cortana Hospice. Might as well talk about a 'Big New Zune/Cortana Bundle!!!!!'