Your Guide To Alexa & Cortana’s Inter-Assistant IntegrationBy - 10/07/2018
Big news for all of the Alexa and Cortana fans out there: You can now talk to Cortana using your Echo devices, and access Alexa using your Cortana-enabled Windows 10 computer or Invoke speaker. Let’s take a look at how it works, what exactly the inter-assistant integration can and can’t do, and how to set it up.
How It Works
Alexa and Cortana’s inter-assistant integration was made possible by a collaboration between Amazon and Microsoft. The goal? A symbiotic relationship where both assistants can benefit from each other’s strengths. Alexa brings to the table its ability to control thousands of smart home devices while Cortana provides insightful access to users’ email and calendar data.
One primary concern here is privacy. Will the assistants share all information they have about you with each other? Don’t fret, because the answer is ‘no.’ When you’re talking to Cortana via an Echo device, your voice data goes to Microsoft and not Amazon. When you’re talking to Alexa, it only goes to Amazon and not Microsoft.
For now, the integration is far from seamless. Every time you want to talk to one assistant via the other assistant’s device, you’ll need to say “open Cortana” or “open Alexa.” (As in, say “Alexa, open Cortana” to your Echo device to access Cortana.) But don’t worry, after responding to your request, the assistant you opened will first ask you if there’s anything else you need before shutting down. If you don’t say anything for five seconds, the assistant will close.
What They Can And Can’t Do
Another thing you should know is that the integration doesn’t give you full access to both assistants. What Alexa can do on your computer and what Cortana can do on your Echo device differs. So what exactly can and can’t they do?
Let’s talk about Alexa first. Alexa, on Echo devices, can do a lot of things thanks to Skills. And the good news is most Skills are supported on Windows computers, including many smart home skills. This means you can now control your Alexa-connected smart home devices using a Cortana-enabled computer. When I tested this feature, I was able to turn my smart switches on and off and even adjust my smart thermostat using my work computer.
Another thing Alexa can do on Cortana-enabled computers is answer questions (trivia, weather, traffic, etc.). But why ask Alexa when Cortana can also give you answers? Because as we learned from our Alexa and Google Assistant comparison article, each assistant’s question-answering skills are different. The inter-assistant integration lets you choose who you want to answer your specific question so you can get the best possible answer.
Finally, you can add items to your Amazon cart or shopping list. Instead of asking Cortana to remind you to buy something, you can just open Alexa and order stuff directly from Amazon.
Let’s talk about what Alexa can’t do on Cortana-enabled computers. There are also a lot of things on this list. For example, you can’t ask Alexa to play music or stream podcasts and Audible books; not even if you ask Alexa to play it on one of your Echo devices. You also can’t set alarms, reminders, and timers. You can’t ask Alexa to do anything that requires prolonged use of the device (e.g., playing music or podcasts) or delayed response (e.g., timers). If you’re an Echo Show or Spot user, you also can’t use Skills that require visual output, such as playing videos or streaming security camera footage. But let’s hope they add that feature soon!
Cortana’s skillset is much more limited when compared to Alexa. For one, there are only a few smart home brands that work with Cortana; twelve to be precise. The good news is you can control all of them when talking to Cortana using an Echo device.
You can also access some Connected Services, such as Outlook, Gmail, and Office 365. You can ask Cortana to read your emails, tell you what’s on your calendar, and more. However, some Connected Services and features aren’t supported, such as Skype and LinkedIn. Skype requires the use of the Skype app, which isn’t available on Echo devices. LinkedIn, on the other hand, requires visual feedback not available even on ‘screened’ Echo devices.
Like with Alexa, you can’t ask Cortana on your Echo device to play music, set timers, or create alarms. However, you can ask Cortana to create a reminder. When the reminder is due, you’ll get a notification on your computer and Cortana smartphone app.
Amazon and Microsoft’s partnership has spanned beyond Alexa and Cortana’s inter-assistant integration. Recently, Microsoft opened up Skype, their video calling service, to Alexa users.
Alexa’s Skype integration allows users to make Skype calls on their Echo devices. You can call your Skype contacts or even call mobile or landline phone numbers that are not on your contact list by dictating the phone number to Alexa. You can also receive Skype calls through your smart speaker. If you have an Echo Show or Spot, you will also have access to video calling.
Unfortunately, not all Echo devices support this feature. It only works on 1st and 2nd generation Amazon Echos, Echo Plus, Echo Show, 2nd and 3rd generation Echo Dots, and Echo Spot.
Setting Up Alexa On Your Windows Computer
Before you can take advantage of all of the cool new features the inter-assistant integration brings, you must first link Alexa to your Cortana-enabled computer and Cortana to your Alexa account. Let’s start with linking Alexa to your computer.
First, activate Cortana by clicking the mic button on the right-hand side of the Windows Search field or say, “Hey Cortana” (if the feature is on). Once Cortana is listening, say “Open Alexa.” Alexa will ask you to sign-in to your Alexa account via a pop-up window.
Alternatively, you can also see the Alexa skill via Cortana’s Notebook. Just go to the Notebook window and click on Manage Skills. Then, select Discover More Skills. Look for the Amazon Alexa Skill, click on it, and select Try Now. You’ll also be asked to enter your Alexa account email and password.
With your Alexa account linked, you’ll be able to ask Cortana to open Alexa using any computer that supports Cortana and has the same Windows account signed in.
Setting Up Cortana On Your Echo Devices
To allow the inter-assistant integration, you must also link your Cortana to your Alexa account. Take note; this is not mandatory. You can use the feature one way (i.e., access Alexa via Cortana but not Cortana via Alexa) or both ways. If you decide to use both, here’s how you can setup Cortana on your Echo device.
First, launch the Alexa app on your smartphone, sign into your account, and go to the Skills page. Look for the Cortana Skill and activate it just as you would with any other Skill. When prompted to link your Cortana account, simply login using the same account you used to sign in to Cortana on your computer. You’ll also need to give the Cortana Skill permission to access some information from your Amazon account, including your Echo device’s location. This is so Cortana can provide location-specific responses when you ask it about the weather, traffic, etc.
Setting Up Other Integrations
The Skype integration isn’t simply an Alexa Skill. It’s a direct integration that you can activate by going to your Alexa app’s Communication settings (Settings > Communication > Skype). Simply select Skype as your preferred communication service and link your Skype account. Once done, you can begin calling your Skype contacts using Alexa. However, some features require a premium Skype account, such as Skype to Phone. If you don’t have a premium Skype account, the good news is that Microsoft is currently offering 100 minutes of free calls per month for the first two months if you link your Skype account to Alexa. You can take advantage of this promo through January 31, 2019.
The Future Of Inter-Assistant Integrations
Of course, Alexa and Cortana’s interoperability is just the beginning. We’re hoping to see more features, but more than that, we’re hoping for a more seamless experience. Fortunately, that’s also what Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) envisions according to announcements made last year regarding the collaboration with Microsoft. Bezos hopes that one day AI assistants will be smart enough to automatically forward your requests to the assistant most suited to help you. On the other hand, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadel hopes other companies with AI assistants such as Google and Apple will be inspired by Alexa and Cortana’s integration.