While Qi Lu is no longer with Microsoft, he is still an important name in the company’s history. The AI expert was a core component of the team that developed the Cortana virtual assistant. However, Lu believes Amazon’s Alexa assistant has stolen the advantage and is ahead of Cortana.
Speaking in an interview with Wired, Lu explained how Microsoft struggles to compete with Alexa:
“I worked on Cortana four and a half years ago. At the time we all were like, ‘Amazon, yeah, that technology is so far behind,’” says Lu. “Google and Microsoft, technologically, were ahead of Amazon by a wide margin. But look at the AI race today. The Amazon Alexa ecosystem is far ahead of anybody else in the United States. It’s because they got the scenario right. They got the device right. Essentially, Alexa is an AI-first device.”
Lu is referencing Amazon’s rich bot and app support for Alexa. The company’s assistant can connect to many more services compared to Cortana and Google’s offerings. This is arguably evidenced in the home smart speaker market.
Amazon’s Echo speaker range has functionality far beyond Google’s Home speaker. Qi Lu is among the best placed to offer opinion on Microsoft problem. As well as developing Cortana, he also worked on the bot platform for the company. Among his other positions in Redmond included heading the Bing and Office divisions.
He says Microsoft and Google focused on an assistant for PC and phone. Instead, they should have focused attention on developing a dedicated device.
“The phone, in my view, is going to be, for the foreseeable future, a finger-first, mobile-first device,” explains Lu. “You need an AI-first device to solidify an emerging base of ecosystems.”
Amazon’s Echo range is the dedicated device Lu speaks of. Google has entered the market, but currently struggles to match Alexa’s AI reach. Microsoft, on the other hand, is still waiting to enter the space. Harman Kardon is launching a Cortana powered smart speaker later in the year.