For most of us, the Amazon Alexa bot became a way of life over the last year. I use the Echo speaker on my desk. I have a Dot speaker in two bedrooms of my house. I’ve used Alexa on my phone many times, and I’ve tested it on pre-production cars. It’s connected into my home security system. It can read books from Audible.com, and it tells pretty good jokes (at least they are better than some jokes by humans).
Microsoft's Cortana is an afterthought. It’s right there on my Windows computer, but it doesn’t really provide a lot of value. Because the enterprise has become such a multi-faceted environment — we use iPhones, book meetings through Google, and type docs in Microsoft Word — it’s hard to get excited about a bot that’s really an extension of the Microsoft ecosystem.
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Both Amazon and Microsoft have announced that the two bots — Alexa and Cortana — will talk to each other. It's not really in an extended conversation (that would be a cool idea) but simply as a way to open the other bot. You can say, “Cortana, open Alexa” and then control your smarthome. Or you can say, “Alexa, open Cortana” and book a meeting in Outlook.
That sound you hear is a hundred people snoring after they’ve fallen asleep.
It is not exactly planet-shaking news, although it is amazing that the two companies are working together. It's a bit like Siri ordering a movie from the Amazon store or Google Home being totally OK with the idea of letting you dictate a Microsoft Word document. The ability to talk to one bot to open another bot, though, is not really integration or even collaboration. It’s more like a way for both companies to admit the other bot exists and acknowledge there could be more synergy,
That’s a good thing for the companies involved. For the user, it’s annoying.
A better version of bot integration
Here’s what real integration would look like.
For starters, the bot we’ve all seen in the movie Her was obviously platform agnostic. It was more like a personal assistant, but it wasn’t branded as a Google bot or an Amazon bot. It was just a bot, and in the end, that’s what the user wants. The lights turn on, the pack of ink cartridges ships out, etc. True integration involves a bot that does all the hard work for you without the user even knowing that a Nest thermostat exists at all. The temperature goes down. The user doesn’t care about brands or platforms; the user cares about functionality.
To me, the Cortana-Alexa news is really just another layer. Using one bot to open another makes the entire process more complex, not less complex. How does the user know what Alexa can do and what Cortana can do? Why should he or she care? Also, which bots can tell you the weather or order a product online? We want to know the weather, not that both bots can do that.
As is often the case, integration is the stuff of press releases and market share. It is not something the user wants to know about unless the news is that the user doesn’t need to think as much, doesn’t need to know as much, and won’t be as frustrated.
We’ll see how this plays out, but my guess is that few users are going to care that one bot can command another bot. When the branded bots go away -- that’s the big headline.