Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa to Work Together

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Alexa has a focus on shopping and connectivity between various smart devices, as well as a large app library.

In an unusual partnership, Amazon and Microsoft are working together to extend the abilities of their voice-controlled digital assistants, The New York Times reports.

The timing might seem weird with Cortana-powered devices like the Harmon Kardon Invoke speaker launching this fall. In that same vein, Echo smart speaker owners will be able to say "Alexa, open Cortana" to call upon Microsoft's digital assistant. This is huge. But exactly how huge will likely be up to how deeply the two tech giants allow Alexa and Cortana to achieve truly seamless interoperability.

Alexa has some 20,000 "skills" created by third-party software developers.

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While Amazon's Echo is not officially available in India, devices are still fully functional and users can access some of the internet content through them. Or if your Echo is in earshot, you'll be able to tell it "Alexa, open Cortana" to talk to Microsoft's assistant instead. By comparison, users of Amazon's and Microsoft's digital assistants are a drop in the bucket. Users will need to ask their Alexa device, "Alexa, open Cortana", and anyone using Cortana will need to say, "Cortana, open Alexa" to switch from one assistant to the other.

The surprising partnership has been in the works for some time.

Alexa and Cortana will begin talking to each other later this year, and at that time Microsoft and Amazon will announce further details and features. Amazon Echo has these as well, which allows the gadget to hear someone speaking to it, even in a room with a refrigerator hums, a dog barks and a auto zooms past, outside the window.

Amazon's Alexa can now beam music to a specific set of smart speakers in the home, opeing up the capability to blast country music upstairs while sparing the rock fan hanging out below. The Cortana Skills Kit preview only launched in May. Amazon's push into hardware has always been about providing a way for people to shop; buy ebooks on a Kindle, movies on a Fire tablet, toilet paper with a Dash Button, and whatever your heart desires on an Echo.and soon, Cortana.