When Amazon Echo's Alexa can't find the answer to a question in a search query it turns to Bing as a backup, so it doesn't seem out of the ordinary that two virtual assistants — Cortana and Alexa — can now converse.
Amazon and Microsoft announced an extended partnership Wednesday that enables Alexa to talk with Cortana, and Cortana with Alexa.
By the end of 2017, the virtual assistants from these two rivals will converse -- and will support everything from each other's actions to search.
"Amazon and Microsoft worked together for the past year to integrate the technology," according to an Amazon spokesperson.
At launch, those using the virtual assistants will say "Alexa, open Cortana" or "Cortana, open Alexa," and then you can have a conversation, but the two companies would like to simplify that, so users can interact more naturally with both, she said.
Echo owner will get easy access to Cortana. Those using Alexa will have an option to access Cortana's features such as booking a meeting or accessing work calendars, noting reminders to pick things on the way home from work or reading emails out loud through voice commands.
Similarly, Cortana customers can ask Alexa to control their smart-home devices, shop on Amazon.com, and interact with many of the more than 20,000 skills built by third-party developers.
Separately, Microsoft and Amazon have been working to build out third-party developer networks with help from their respective software development kits.
Amazon has begun to educate the industry on its Alexa Voice Services (AVS) through quick-start guides and API overviews focusing on what the company calls Skills, Amazon's term for voice-based apps. The technology can be taught to do everything from search for information to complete a task. Alexa will play music, answer questions, get news and local information, control smart home products, and other tasks from voice-enabled products.
Amazon's Alexa now has more than 20,000 skills, up from 14,000 just a year ago.