iPhone Users Will Be Able to Say ‘Hey Cortana, Open Alexa’ in Future

Amazon and Microsoft today jointly announced that Alexa and Cortana will soon be able to communicate with each other.


Microsoft said the collaboration will allow access to Alexa via Cortana on Windows 10 PCs later this year, and via the Cortana app for iOS and Android at an unspecified point in the future. Similarly, users will be able to access Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show.

iPhone users should eventually be able to open the Cortana app and say "hey Cortana, open Alexa," to access Amazon's virtual assistant. Alexa can be used to shop and manage orders on Amazon, ask a variety of questions, stream music and audiobooks, check the news and weather, and many other tasks.

However, iPhone users won't be able to say "hey Cortana, open Alexa" from the Home screen, or when the device is locked. Apple only allows third-party virtual assistants to function within their apps, so accessing Alexa via Cortana will be a lot more cumbersome than simply using Siri.

For a complete virtual assistant experience, iPhone users could also say "hey Siri, open the Cortana app" and then say "hey Cortana, open Alexa."

Alexa can already be used in the Amazon app on iOS [Direct Link], while Cortana has been available on the App Store [Direct Link] since December 2015.


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Harman Kardon Product Page Reveals Design of Cortana-Based Smart Speaker

Harman Kardon has teased its upcoming Cortana-integrated connected smart speaker with a product page that revealed a little more about the device's design and features.

The web page for the Invoke speaker appears to have been removed since it was spotted by Thurrott.com this morning, but it offered a better glimpse at the device's sloping cylindrical design, which appears to fall somewhere in between the Amazon Echo and Google Home.


The light ring at the top of the speaker will be familiar to users of Microsoft's Cortana voice-activated assistant, while pictures suggest touch-based controls could involve rotating the upper ridge. Elsewhere, the mesh grille indicates the device's expected ability to project high-quality audio over 360 degrees.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the Invoke speaker is voice calling, which the Echo and Google Home do not currently support, although the Harman Kardon device does appear to rely on Skype for this capability.


No pricing was given on the product page, but the Invoke speaker is being marketed as a premium alternative to its rivals, so it's unlikely to be cheap. The device is expected to launch this fall.

Apple is rumored to be close to launching its own voice-driven smart speaker with Siri functionality and AirPlay support. The device is said to have a Mac Pro-like concave top with built-in controls and could possibly run a modified version of iOS. The product could be unveiled as early as next month at WWDC. Amazon is also said to be working on a next-generation Echo with a built-in screen and phone calling features.

In related news today, research firm eMarketer revealed the results of a study that shows Amazon is dominating the nascent market for voice-controlled speakers. The company's Echo range of devices will claim a 70.6 percent share of the U.S. market this year, the study found, while Google Home will come a distant second with 23.8 percent share, with the rest of the market shared between less successful offerings from other tech companies.

The number of active U.S. users will more than double for the devices this year, to 35.6 million, eMarketer said.

Tag: Cortana

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Cortana for iPhone is Now Faster and Freshly Redesigned

Microsoft today updated Cortana for iPhone with a significant redesign that has been available to Android users since December. As noted by Paul Thurrott, version 2.0 of the app is more responsive with redesigned calling, texting, and reminders and more immersive full-page answers with quicker page transitions.

Cortana's mobile redesign launched on Android in December

Cortana is Microsoft's equivalent of Siri for Windows PCs and smartphones, Xbox, iOS, and Android. The personal assistant enables users to ask questions, check the weather, schedule calendar appointments, set reminders, track packages, look up sports scores, and many other tasks that Siri is capable of.

Cortana is free on the App Store [Direct Link] for iPhone.


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Microsoft Opens Cortana Virtual Assistant to Third-Party Hardware Makers

Microsoft has announced it is making its Cortana voice assistant AI available to third-party device makers, with third-party developers also set to get access to the platform for integrating into their services on Cortana-powered devices.

The company's approach is based on two software kits currently available for preview: A Skills Kit that allows developers to build apps that can be called up and controlled via Cortana using voice commands, and a Cortana Devices SDK, which enables third-party hardware manufacturers to bake in the voice-activated AI to new devices.


Premium audio company Harman Kardon is set to become one of the first device makers to make use of the SDK in a new wireless speaker, set to debut early next year. In a short video released by Microsoft, the speaker looks vaguely similar to an Amazon Echo, but appears to feature a display at the top that lights up when Cortana is summoned.

Given its long history of working with OEMs, Microsoft's decision to license out its Cortana AI to third party device makers could prove an adroit move in a smart speaker space currently dominated by Google and Amazon, both of which have released own-branded devices.

Just last week, Microsoft unveiled plans to compete with smart devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo by developing a HomeHub feature for Windows 10 PCs that enables Cortana to be summoned from the lock screen and provide useful information on request. The Redmond-based company is also planning to enable Cortana integration with fridges, toasters, thermostats, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices, made possible by way of a Windows 10 Creators Update, due to land in March 2017.

Apple's interest in bringing a Siri-integrated smart speaker to market has been rumored since May. The company is said to be developing a product that would include a speaker and microphone that could be used for features like listening to music, getting news headlines, and more, but further details have so far been thin on the ground.

Despite the lack of recent rumors, a report last month suggested that Amazon is already readying its response to Apple's entry into the market. Amazon's next iteration of the Echo speaker is said to be a premium model that includes a large touchscreen, marking a major departure from the tall, cylindrical design of the Echo currently on sale.


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Redesign Coming for Cortana on iOS as App Debuts in the U.K.

Microsoft has announced that Cortana for iOS is coming to the U.K. and that the company is readying a significant design overhaul based on user feedback.

Cortana is to Windows what Siri is to macOS, but Microsoft's voice-activated virtual assistant has been available on iOS in the United States for precisely a year now, allowing PC users with Apple devices to sync their reminders, notifications and so on between the two platforms.

cortana
  • Reminders that Travel with You: Cortana has your back, seamlessly keeping track of the things you need to remember across all the platforms you use her. Set a reminder on your PC and get it on your mobile phone.
  • Never Miss a Phone Call: In a meeting and can’t answer your phone? With the Cortana app, get a missed call alert on your Windows 10 PC and let Cortana send a text back letting them know you’ll call them later – all without leaving your PC.
  • Optimized for Mobile: Designed specifically for your mobile life with quick action buttons and voice to get what you need quickly, a streamlined design and widgets for Android and iOS.
Along with the iOS app's imminent U.K. debut, Microsoft took the opportunity to announce an upcoming overhaul for Cortana on mobile that replaces the existing design with a cleaner, simpler interface, and introduces quick actions for putting frequently used functions front and center. Checking things like calendars, news, and weather, and setting and viewing reminders will become accessible with a tap on the main screen.

As well as clearer full-page answers to queries, Microsoft says the updated Cortana app will also be significantly faster. Cortana for iOS is a free download for iPhone and iPad. Microsoft wasn't clear about when exactly Cortana will be making its way to the U.K. App Store, but the redesigned app is said to be arriving on both sides of the Atlantic "in the coming weeks".


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Microsoft’s Home Hub aims to turn the PC into an Amazon Echo

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It has been rumored for some time that Microsoft wants to join the smart home speaker space with a device called Home Hub. 

A new report has a lot more details, and while it still sounds like a competitor to Amazon’s smart speaker Echo and Google Home, it’s different in one key detail: it’s software, not hardware. 

According to Windows Central, which quotes multiple unnamed sources, Home Hub is a software update for Windows 10 that will make the Windows PC a bit more like a smart speaker. 

What Home Hub would do 

Microsoft’s smart digital assistant Cortana can already answer your queries, even if the PC’s screen is locked. The Home Hub is tied to Cortana and takes this a few steps further. It would add a special app with features such as calendar appointments, sticky notes and shopping lists.  Read more…

More about Cortana, Smart Assistant, Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Home Hub