In what is probably a surprising move for most observers, Amazon is teaming up with Microsoft to integrate both companies’ voice assistants into their smart home devices.
Alexa is Amazon’s voice service and is available through devices such as the Echo Dot. Microsoft has a similar voice assistant, called Cortana, and the company is planning to launch its own smart home device later this year.
Which is probably what makes the new deal between the companies surprising – why would Microsoft, in particular, decide to team up with Amazon at a time when it’s launching a rival device?
It’s possible that both companies are hoping to gain a significant early advantage against Apple, which has launched HomePod, a smart home device with the Siri voice assistant installed.
Google also has a voice-enabled smart home device, although its voice assistant doesn’t seem to have a fancy name – it’s just called Google Home, or Google Assistant.
But Google may be the company that the others are more wary of, since the main use of the device may end up being searching for things online – and Google is by far the largest, most powerful search engine.
If the device is connected to a screen of some sort – maybe a television – then maybe the search results could be displayed there.
Like the other smart home devices, it can also be used to control heating and lighting in the home.
Moreover, some people also expect these smart home devices to replace the phones in many people’s homes as they may be more convenient than picking up a phone handset and dialling numbers.
There are probably many other possibilities and functionalities these devices could be installed with, or enhanced with through their various app stores, but for now, they tend to just play music, which is probably why the hardware tends to concentrate on high-quality sound.
But then, high-quality sound processing is essential for other functions as well.
The New York Times reports that Amazon and Microsoft started working together last year, and the end result is now you will be able to access either Cortana or Alexa through one Amazon device, and probably the Microsoft device when it’s eventually launched.
The companies appear to suggest they would welcome Apple and Google also being part of the system, but neither company has yet said whether it would be interested.
The business model appears to reflect Amazon’s approach to online retail, where it has created a website which features many different companies offering many different products – alongside its own products and services, which increasingly relate to the infrastructure necessary to facilitate their customers’ requirements, whether it’s the website itself, the cloud services, the logistics services or, as now, the home automation device.
Voice-based shopping may well become a big thing. Walmart certainly thinks so. Still one of the world’s largest retailers, Walmart recently agreed a partnership with Google to offer shopping services through the search giant’s home automation device, Google Assistant.