Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant has fallen behind Google Assistant and Alexa over the past year, and now the software maker is taking a different approach to the competition. Speaking to journalists at a media event last week the CEO, Satya Nadella, revealed that Microsoft no longer sees Cortana as a competitor to Alexa or Google Assistant. “Cortana needs to be that skill for anybody who’s a Microsoft 365 subscriber,” explained Nadella, referencing Microsoft’s new consumer subscription push. “You should be able to use it on Google Assistant, you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like how you use our apps on Android and iOS so that’s at least how we want to think about where it’ll go.”
Microsoft has already partnered with Amazon to enable Cortana and Alexa integration, and at the launch of the partnership Nadella compared digital assistants to web browsers that need to be interoperable and access similar information. It’s now clear that Nadella sees Cortana as an app or service that will work across multiple platforms, rather than Microsoft competing in Cortana hardware for consumers. Microsoft will still need to convince Google that Cortana integration is a good idea.
Instead of competing with Alexa, Nadella admits that there was a challenge of creating hardware and software that’s unique to compete. Microsoft chose to make Cortana “a valuable skill that somebody who is using Alexa can call,” instead of competing in smart speakers, and that’s probably why we haven’t seen many Cortana speakers. We are still however likely see Cortana appear in hardware such as Surface Headphones in the future.
Microsoft moved Cortana out of its AI research division and into its Experiences and Devices team late last year, signaling Nadella’s focus on Cortana being an assistant across multiple products and platforms. The move coincided with the departure of Microsoft’s Cortana chief, and capped a difficult year for the digital assistant. Microsoft has made Skype calling available on Alexa and the Xbox One also now supports Alexa.
Microsoft is now in the middle of re-positioning Cortana on Windows 10, including separating it from search and silencing the digital assistant during setup.