As Amazon and Google corner the smart speaker market, Microsoft is having to face facts. Once again, it didn't commit early enough. Last year, it announced plans to reposition Cortana as a productivity aid, while also integrating it with Amazon's Alexa.
The changes have caused some confusion with users, who fail to see the benefit of using Cortana over competing platforms. In a press meeting on Monday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella finally revealed the long-term vision for the assistant, and it's a strange one.
According to Nadella, Microsoft no longer sees Cortana as a competitor to Alexa or Google Assistant. Instead, he wants the assistant to become a skill or app on other platforms, providing unique value due to her Office links.
“Would it be better off, for example, to make Cortana a valuable skill that someone who is using Alexa can call? Or should we try to compete with Alexa?“ he said, according to Business Insider. “We, quite frankly, decided that we would do the former. Because Cortana needs to be that skill for anyone who is a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber.”
Cortana and Google Assistant
However, the vision doesn't stop with Amazon. In an ideal world, Microsoft would get Google on board, too.
“You should be able to use it on Google Assistant, you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like how you use our apps on Android and iOS so that's at least how we want to think about where it'll go,” Nadella added.
It's unclear how achievable that goal is. Google and Microsoft are yet to announce any kind of collaboration. Google's G Suite platform is a direct competitor to Office 365, as its Chromebooks somewhat are to Windows. It's not clear if the benefits would be enough for Google in Cortana's current state.
As it stands, the assistant has a limited reach, not supporting a number of major languages or rolling out in mainland Europe. In the long-term, though, Nadella doesn't believe the speaker you use will matter. He envisions a future where software will be smarter and users can ask it to do any number of things.
Having just one way to talk an assistant “makes no sense” to Nadella, and he may have a point. However, Microsoft's ability to capitalize on that remains to be seen.