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Microsoft Reportedly Reworking Its Cortana Voice Assistant

Updates to Cortana may include an integration with Amazon’s Alexa assistant, and ultimately aim to bring Cortana to more types of devices.

Microsoft is working to overhaul Cortana, its voice assistant that so far is mostly found in Windows 10 PCs, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant is looking to boost the usage of Cortana in settings other than PCs, such as in vehicles, Microsoft executive David Ku told the Journal.

One such effort, the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker, was released last year but has failed to make any headway against the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, according to the report.

[Related: Apple's HomePod Is Not The Smartest Of The Smart Speakers]

A significant update could be coming within the week to Cortana, through an integration with Amazon's popular Alexa assistant, which powers the Echo. Microsoft may be able to "tap into Amazon's pool of customers using voice-recognition gadgets and Alexa's home-automation apps,” while Alexa may gain access to Microsoft's Outlook calendar app, the report says.

While Cortana has millions of monthly users on Windows 10 PCs, the assistant has just 300 "skills" created by third-party developers that add functionality, compared to 40,000 skills for Alexa, the Journal reported.

CRN has reached out to Microsoft and Amazon for comment.

“We're still seeing some major growing pains not only with Cortana, but with the entire smart speaker category,” said Reed Wiedower, CTO of New Signature, a Washington, D.C.-based Microsoft partner.

Wiedower said he owns an Invoke and, like most other smart speaker owners, he largely uses the device for timers, weather and music.

"Not because of the lack of a broader Cortana-based ecosystem, but simply because those are the tasks that, in the house, voice-control seems the most appropriate to perform," he told CRN in an email. "Things such as ordering pizza online, or purchasing products, inevitably are so easy to perform on the web, or even on a mobile device. Switching to a voice-based system reminds one of simply calling up a human, which is for many of us what we're trying to avoid."

Beyond the Invoke, however, "I use Cortana every single day," Wiedower said. "Reminders go into it from my phone, it keeps track of all my flights and packages arriving at my house inside of Outlook and it warns me when I'm running late to a meeting in a location outside my office."

Those scenarios “don't involve me speaking into a device sitting in my house – but all are part of the current Cortana product," he said.

Wiedower added, "although I’m interested to see what 're-tooling' will look like – I think Microsoft's strong focus on productivity scenarios continues to bear fruit for most folks looking to simply speed up their day."

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