Google unveils Assistant delights at CES

It wasn’t going to be long before Google stole the show with a horde of updates to the virtual assistant. And in fairness, some of them look pretty useful.

Who is leading the smart assistant battle varies depending on who you are talking to, but the importance of this segment is consistent throughout. With more users becoming comfortable with the voice UI, buying power will gradually shift away from the smartphone screen and onto connected devices. Whoever has the best and most prominent virtual assistant will control the relationship with the consumer.

Google might dominant search revenues for the moment, but the smart home and the connected economy are changing the status quo; the Google Assistant is one of the ways the firm will stay relevant. So, what is new?

To kick things off, the team has launched Google Assistant Connect, a platform for device manufacturers to bring the Google Assistant into their products in an affordable and easy-to-implement way. This is an important step for the Google team to take, as it allows for scale. Google’s speakers and smart products will not dominate the smart home forever. Sooner or later, traditional brands will take the lion’s share of spend as the mass market will be more comfortable buying from the trusted, specialised brands. But the ambition for Google in the smart home should be in the software not the products.

Google needs to make it as easy as possible for appliance and device manufacturers to incorporate the virtual assistant. Just as it is with the search engine, scale is everything. The more users Google is interacting with, the more accurate its algorithms become and more money its advertising models can generate.

As it stands, the Google Assistant currently works with over 1,600 home automation brands and more than 10,000 devices. This number will only accelerate as the mass market acceptance of smart home devices and applications becomes more apparent.

Another area which has been targeted by the firm in recent months has been automotive. Back in September, Google was named as the technology partner of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, allowing it to embed the Android operating system directly in vehicles. Last year, the alliance sold a combined 10.6 million vehicles in 200 markets across the world. At CES, Google announced a number of new features which would increase the usability of its applications in the car.

One of the updates is to bring the Assistant to Google Maps. Not only will the Assistant help with navigation, but users will be able to use voice commands to send messages to friends, such as estimated time of arrival. The Assistant can also be commanded to search for points of interest or stop-off points along the designated route. It’s a useful little update.

The final update which we like to draw attention to is focused on travel. Before too long, users will be able to instruct the Google Assistant to check them into flights (starting with US domestic flights), and also book hotel rooms at the destination. How effectively this will work remains to be seen, and it will be interesting to see how many hotels the Assistant has to choose from (as well as the price ranges), but again, it is a useful update.

Virtual assistants are not new, but they are becoming increasingly normalised in the eyes of the consumer. The voice UI is starting to make a genuine impact on the technology landscape the sci-fi image of tomorrow might not be as ridiculous as once though. Perhaps if someone nails AR glasses the smartphone screen might become redundant sooner rather than later.

Alexa is starting to turn into a genuinely helpful assistant

Amazon has unveiled a host of new features and skills for its Alexa virtual assistant, edging the living room closer to the intelligent dream we’ve all been promised.

While you cannot argue with the gimmicky entertainment brought by virtual assistants, you have to wonder whether it is anything more than five minutes of entertainment or making our lives easier in the very smallest (and often irrelevant) of ways. The new features and skills released by Amazon are starting to add some clarity to the smart home as we all imagine it from watching too many re-runs of Back to the Future 2.

“The Alexa service is always getting smarter, whether you’re using the Echo you bought three years ago or an Echo Show you buy tomorrow,” said said Tom Taylor, Senior VP of Amazon Alexa. “We have thousands of engineers and scientists inventing on behalf of customers, and today we’re excited to introduce even more features to help make customers’ lives simpler, safer, and more convenient.

“Soon customers will be able to manage their email, easily secure their home, watch the shows they love on Echo Show, and make their daily routines more productive – all just by asking Alexa.”

Right now virtual assistants are very limited in the way they work. This is partly due to customers not utilising the capabilities to full potential, though the breadth of features and skills does need to be fleshed out. It might be cruel to point the finger at Amazon, it is still early days after all, but with the big promises made in advertisements, the virtual assistants are a bit drab. That said, some of the new features do look pretty good. The difference is underlying interaction with other applications and features.

Take the new location based reminders. It’s a simple idea, but linking reminders up with GPS adds value. How many times have you walked home from the tube station, only to realise you forgot to buy peas when you are half-way through cooking your dinner. Now you can ask Alexa to remind you to pick up peas, post a letter, drop off the dry cleaning or buying a last minute birthday present, when you’re passing by the relevant establishment.

The routines is another area which been improved as well. This is an interesting feature which can be adapted to each individual. The morning playlist might depend on the day for instance, or lights are triggered depending on motion and your routine. Both of these examples take the virtual assistant away from the simple command-action scenario and factor in other variables which are not dependent on proactive actions from the user. It is actually starting to become smart.

Later in the year you’ll start to see some even more interesting features with Alexa actually making sensible suggestions depending on your actions and commands. For example, if you activate the bedtime routine by saying ‘Good night Alexa’, the white noise playlist will kick in, and Alexa might ask you whether you want it to switch off the living room light you left on. Features like this will make the virtual assistant much more than a gimmick.

The next step will be deeper integration with other applications such as Outlook calendars. When Alexa prompts you to change your alarm the night before because it has spotted an early morning meeting, it’ll start to be a genuine assistant. One step further would be linking to weather and travel update services so it can proactively change the alarm in the middle of the night if it decides your commute will take longer than it usually should.

The promise of virtual assistants has been very glorious, and so far it hasn’t met the expectations. But updates like this are making Alexa an genuinely helpful and interesting proposition.

Google grabs pole position in the automotive infotainment race

Google has been named as the technology partner of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance to embed the Android operating system in vehicles sold all around the world.

The alliance, which sold a combined 10.6 million vehicles in 200 markets across last year, will integrate Google applications and services into infotainment and cloud-based systems. While each platform will be powered by the Android OS, each brand will have flexibility to create a unique customer interface and specific features on top. The partnership is scheduled to begin in 2021.

“Our partnership with Google will offer owners of our vehicles rich user experiences that are currently available only outside the vehicle or, to a limited extent, by connecting an Android device to supported vehicles,” said Hadi Zablit, SVP of Business Development at Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi.

“We are building powerful connected and seamless on-board/off-board experiences into our vehicles in addition to the features of Google applications and services that many users are accustomed to, including Google Maps, the Google Assistant and the Google Play Store.”

As part of the agreement, Google Maps will power the turn-by-turn navigation systems, while a range of automotive apps will be available to download from the Google Play Store. Users will be able to answer calls and texts, control media, find information, and manage vehicle functions with voice using the Google Assistant.

For Google the move makes a lot of sense. With voice interaction becoming more common, it offers the internet giant an opportunity to generate revenues in environments where a screen is not an option. Both Google and Amazon are attempting to infiltrate as much of the consumers life as possible, and the car is an excellent place to start.

The move also suggests the digital economy will not be as fragmented as some might have feared. Last week BMW announced it was launching its own app, leaving both Amazon and Google out of the equation, to improve the in-car experience. It should not be seen as unusual for OEMs to attempt to create value by owning the customer experience, though the more apps there are on the market, the more fragmented the ecosystem becomes and the more thinly spread data is. Should several assistants all be vying for the attention of the consumer, it is highly unlikely enough data will be collected to create a personalised environment.

With the Google Assistant now interacting with tens of millions of more consumers through the infotainment system, it creates a much more secure foothold in the digital assistant market. Google is no longer limited to your phone or your speaker, but can drive interaction in the car as well.

Of course, with interaction comes revenue opportunities. How long before you infotainment system suggests taking a slight detour to pick up a Big Mac because your Google calendar knows you have a spare 20 minutes before the meeting starts? And how much money will McDonalds pay Google to suggest that detour?

BMW launches its own virtual assistant – let’s hope that’s not the start of a trend

BMW has made a bold statement this week, breaking free from the shackles of Silicon Valley. In launching its own virtual assistant, BMW is confident it can deliver a better experience than Google, Amazon or Microsoft.

From March 2019, the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant will be powering the automotive experience. Whether its checking traffic conditions, learning your habits to create journeys which incorporate a McDonalds Drive Thru, telling you how certain features work or operating functions through the voice interface, it’s the futuristic dream which has been promised by artificial intelligence.

“Software is one of the main investment areas in our company. Not only for the connected car or digital services, but also in the classic IT, with autonomous driving it becomes very important,” said Dieter May, SVP of Digital Products at BMW

“I think our assistant needs to have the capabilities to operate the car at the end of the day and that is why we believe for safety and integrity reasons we need to manage that customer interface. Overall we have a two pronged approach. For BMW ecosystem related topics and plus the car operations, we have our technology stack, but then we are also able to dispatch depending on the type of questions to third party assistants.”

In terms of what the virtual assistant actually is, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, a functional virtual assistant is certainly something to be applauded, but BMW don’t seem to be doing anything which is already on the market aside from being able to rename the assistant whatever you want. It is specific to the car environment, but we suspect it wouldn’t take long for the likes of Google or Amazon to figure this out. So why break away from the Silicon Valley experts?

As with any new software breakthrough, the manufacturers try to create their own proprietary offering. There is no problem trying to own the customer experience, they are customers of that business after all, and it does offer an opportunity to differentiate. In this case, it is also part of the Infotainment package being sold to customers as well. However, in most cases, the versions created by the OEMs is sub-standard to the version created by the experts, and we suspect it will be the case here as well.

The beauty and downfall of virtual assistants is the machine learning and personalisation opportunity. The beauty is the constant improvements in the accuracy and effectiveness of the software, though the downfall is exactly the same. If you don’t use it enough, there isn’t enough data to train the algorithm, and the assistant falls short of the promised personalisation leading to poor customer experience. This is where BMW could be kicking off a dangerous trend in attempting to create its own virtual assistant.

Should others follow suit and attempt to own the assistant, the space will become incredibly fragmented. Your smartphone could become littered with different assistants for different parts of your life. Not only would this be incredibly irritating and confusing, but it would impact the performance of the assistants themselves. As mentioned before, virtual assistants are only as good as the hours they are used. If you are splitting your time over several different assistants, it reduces the amount of data each collects and can be used to train the algorithm. The result could be several so-so or poor assistants, offering more generalised services, instead of a single virtual assistant which collects all information about the user and is incredibly personalised.

Both consequences would be very negative for the development of virtual assistants. If there are too many hyper-specialised assistants, they become irritating so people will stop using them. And if the training data is spread too thin, the personalisation promise is never realised, with users probably ignoring the generalist services which never quite hit the mark.

The BMW virtual assistant might well be a good bit of kit, though we suspect the software engineers at the firm are not quite in the same league as counterparts in Amazon, Google or Microsoft. But whether it is any good now is not the point. Over-saturating the virtual assistant segment significantly lowers the glass ceiling of personalisation and will damage the long-term potential of the technology.

Launch of Note 9 and smart speaker will test power of Samsung’s brand

Samsung has decided to test the loyalty of its fanbase with the launch of its latest smartphone, which is has priced at an eye-watering $1000, while also entering the smart speaker battle with Galaxy Home.

Over the last 12 months, the marketing strategy has changed at Samsung. There has been a notable shift from marketing devices through product-orientated messaging, towards brand-related advertising. This is why Apple has been successful over the years, it has created a legion of iLifers who stick with Apple because they align themselves to the brand, not the products. Now it seems Samsung is testing out how loyal its fan-base is by launched an extortionately expensive device.

Pricing will start at $1,000 for 128 GB version of the device and $1,250 for the 512 GB version. This is a ridiculous amount of storage, while there are also a number of new features. The S Pen is Bluetooth enabled to act as a remote control for the camera and other features, the Note 9’s 4,000mAh battery is largest ever on a flagship Galaxy phone, the camera now includes AI, Dolby speakers are introduced and also features Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor.

It sounds like a good device, but is it worth $1,000? What is actually different from the Note 8?

Its ever so slightly bigger, though ppi (pixels per inch) is ever so slightly down. The camera is exactly the same aside from introduction of dual aperture and AI which supposedly makes pictures better. The memory is substantially larger. The battery is now 4,000 mAh as instead of 3,300 mAh. It is faster thanks to Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon chip. It has been upgraded for Enhanced 4×4 MIMO, not just the bog-standard 4×4 MIMO. And finally, it now has an Intelligent iris scanner, not just a bog standard iris scanner.

We get the impression executives looked at the price of the iPhone X and decided they wanted to do that as well. The upgraded features are all well and good, but that is all they are; upgrades. Again, another flagship has been launched with nothing really new on it. At this price, it will genuinely test out the success of Samsung’s brand advertising campaigns over the last couple of months. Has it done enough to convince fans the brand is attractive enough to part with $1,000?

Another interesting aspect of this launch is the entry into the smart speaker space. This seems like a logical move for an electronics manufacturer who have experience in a broad portfolio of different entertainment products, though Samsung certainly took its time to get here.

What is worth noting is this does seem like a product designed for the fast followers and main-stream adopters of society. The early adopters of smart speakers would have been drawn to the intelligence aspect, the virtual assistants, though Samsung’s device does appear to be designed for those who are after a product for the home first and foremost, with the bonus being intelligence. It’s a strange looking device, but Samsung does have the pedigree in the electronics world and also the Galaxy brand to lean on.

This will be another test for the success of the brand advertising campaigns for Samsung, as the device will be entering into a crowded market. Google and Amazon already have a dominant lead, while Apple has been hoovering up a minor share of the market with its HomePod. As more mainstream brands with a greater focus on audio appear, competition will start to become rife. To secure a solid position, Samsung will have to lean heavily on the power of the Galaxy brand and also the power of its virtual assistant.

This is where Samsung will be going head-to-head with the likes of Google and Amazon. For those who are interested in the intelligence aspect of smart speakers, beyond simplistic functions such as volume control, Bixby will have to prove it is at least as good as Echo and the Google Assistant. With more third-parties set to launch with the option of choosing a personal assistant, the success of Bixby could be a deciding factor when purchasing.

With a flagship device offering little more than a sleeker design and feature upgrades, and a smart speaker entering into an increasingly crowded market, Samsung is relying heavily on the power of its brand and the loyalty of customers. This could be a very interesting or difficult time for the business; only time will tell whether Samsung’s efforts to create an Apple-like following have been successful.

Telefonica bags 470k assistant downloads – perhaps the telcos can feature in the smart home

In the three months since the launch of Telefonica’s digital assistant, Aura, has been downloaded by 470,000 users; perhaps the telcos can muscle in on the smart assistant market currently dominated by Google and Amazon.

It’s a position at the top of the totem pole which few telcos have been used to in recent years. Although the features are simplistic in comparison to leaders in the market, there are plans to further develop services to manage smart home devices. Such a proposition, should it prove to be any good, would elevate Telefonica up the value chain in the digital ecosystem, while also opening new opportunities to generate revenue.

Aura in Movistar+ allows users to search through content using a number of different differentiators such as genre, actors or directors, as well as recommending alternative titles and controlling the functions on a smart TV. New features would have to be released before too long, however users do seem to be happy with the service thus far. 90% of respondents to Telefonica’s own research suggest they would continue to use the assistant, 50% said it improves their own Movistar+ experience, while 70% claim it improved their impression of the Movistar+ brand.

To date, virtual assistants have largely baffled the telcos, with the likes of Google and Amazon taking a leadership position in the field. While prioritizing activities in areas which are more likely to produce success is a perfectly valid approach, allowing the internet giants to control the interaction with the consumer also grants them first pick of the cash which can be gleamed through the digital community. The further down the totem pole telcos sit, the smaller the share of the profits.

That said, Telefonica’s research suggests there might be room at the top. And it is not alone. Last year, Orange launched its own virtual assistant Djingo onto the market, which has been successful enough for the French telco to tie up with DT in Germany. As part of the Magenta offering, DT white labelled the Djingo assistant for its own smart speaker. The pair have also jointly developed a voice-controlled ecosystem, centred around the TV. Djingo is also being used as part of the Orange Bank offering. Elsewhere in the Telefonica family, O2 in the UK have also been using the power of Aura to fuel its own AI chatbot as part of a customer services push.

These are very simplistic versions of the virtual assistant at the moment. Looking forward, the expectation is virtual assistants will be able to help us order our groceries, choose a takeaway and even co-ordinate with our diaries. There are also some apps on the market which can help you with personal banking and budgeting. Controlling the TV and searching through film databases is a nice little gimmick, but there will need to be more if Telefonica and the other telcos want to play in the added value aspects of the digital economy.

Telefonica’s success with the Aura virtual assistant does demonstrate there is potential for telcos in this area though. Google and Amazon might have stolen a lead, but there might be a way for the telcos to push themselves up the value chain and away from the dreading tag of connectivity utility.

Google plugs ecosystem in battle for the living room

Google has announced the launch of a new investment program for early-stage start-ups to build the digital assistant ecosystem, following steps taken by Amazon with its Alexa fund.

The fund will provide investment capital, as well as access to Google engineers for advice, early access to upcoming features, access to the Google Cloud Platform and promotional support through Google marketing channels. Such prizes will have start-ups clambering over each other to gain the attention of executives.

“To promote more of this creativity, we’re opening a new investment program for early-stage start-ups that share our passion for the digital assistant ecosystem, helping to push new ideas forward and advance the possibilities of what digital assistants can do,” Google said in a statement.

In terms of the battle for the living room, this could be a very decisive more by the search engine giant.

As it stands, Google is losing the smart speaker race. Amazon has got greater market penetration with its hardware, as well as a better reputation in the segment. However, these are only the initial skirmishes; the war will be won by the company which can build the richest, most innovative and varied ecosystem.

Google Ecosystem

Ultimately, the speaker is just a bit of hardware which can be manufactured by any electronics company, though this does extend to other smart devices as well. There will of course be better quality models, more stylish designs and a huge variety of brands, but the power of the smart speaker will be the effectiveness of the assistant and the ecosystem which has been built behind the scenes.

Before too long every electronics manufacturer will start building smart speakers which either (1) have a smart assistant set as default, or (2) give the user the option to install their own assistant. Evidence of this trend is already starting to emerge as Michele Turner, Director of Google’s Smart Home Ecosystem points out there are already 5,000 devices on the market which can connect to the Google Assistant. This number has tripled over the last three months.

The expensive marketing campaigns launched by Google and Amazon over the last couple of months are nothing but a normalization strategy for smart devices, we suspect there are no long-term ambitions for the pair in hardware. Money will be made through software and facilitating relationships between the user and third-parties. This is where Google and Amazon need to start focusing for a simple reason; without the ecosystem who would actually use a smart speaker or engage in the connected era?

Of course the speakers are entertaining and useful for the moment, but when you add in skills, new services and other smart devices, it starts to become an integral part of the user’s life. Services like Edwin, one of the first companies to receive Google funding, which offers a personal English tutor powered by AI, or Pulse Labs which helps voice application developers test their applications with real people. These are two different facets of the ecosystem, but important in different ways.

Just to emphasise the importance of the ecosystem, we can have a look at the development of social media. Facebook did an incredible job of mobilising and engaging technology companies, publishers and online gaming companies to adapt their propositions to the platform. It creating a deep ecosystem of content, product and services, and therefore a continuous role in the life of the consumers. MySpace did not create an ecosystem to support the community and suffered as a result.

Once an ecosystem has been created, more products and services are integrated into the platform. Once there are more uses for the user, they become increasingly engaged, which creates the monetization opportunity. Once money is being made through advertising or referrals, more investment can be pumped back into the ecosystem and the trend starts all over again. It’s the walled garden business model which has been proven successful in numerous other areas of the digital economy.

The initial bragging rights for the smart speaker segment will be the company which dominates hardware sales, but soon enough companies which specialise in manufacturing electronics devices will make the Amazon or Google hardware seem second-rate.

It all comes down to the software which powers the smart speaker, and the ecosystem which supports it.

Nuance muscles into virtual assistant space

Nuance has made a move to capitalise on the software and data chaos, introducing its own cognitive arbitrator, which will act as a digital task master.

The idea is relatively simple. With the digital world moving ever quicker from touch user interface to voice activated software, more organizations are bringing out their own virtual assistants to work on specific products. This can mean the user will have to summon several different assistants to accomplish a series of tasks, while simultaneously remembering the controls specific to each. Nuance is proposing a cognitive arbitrator, streamlining all the controls and actions into one place.

“By 2020, there will be 26 billion intelligent, capable, connected devices armed with conversational virtual assistants that manage nearly every possible consumer experience,” said Kenneth Harper, VP of Emerging Solutions at Nuance. “These assistants all have strengths and specialties, but today, they rarely communicate with each other or work together across devices – and it’s the consumer who loses out.

“The introduction of Nuance’s cognitive arbitrator functionality solves this challenge, maximising our customers’ ability to provide their own unique and differentiated experiences to end users, while also offering interoperability to the world of other assistants that deliver useful services. It’s a win-win for everyone in the ecosystem, especially the humans that buy and use our customers’ products and services.”

It does seem like a sensible idea, which has already proven to work in the world of eCommerce. It isn’t necessarily a direct comparison, but an interesting link. First you had hotels listing rooms for reduced rates on their own websites, which was then superseded by websites like All of the hotels in a certain area were collected together, so the user can achieve his/her aims in one sitting. As mentioned before, not directly comparable, but similar.

In theory, the Nuance system should be able to listen to the commands of the user, whether it would be directions for driving, music selection or adding toothpaste to the shopping list, before pushing out the commands to the relevant system.

Should Nuance be able to create a dominant position on top of the pile, develop enough partnerships with the industry, it could prove to be a very interesting niche for the business. That said, it will soon have to tackle Google and Amazon.

These are the two dominant virtual assistants in the market, produced by two of the major cloud innovators in the industry. There is no reason why they shouldn’t sit at the top of the pile and have everything else plug into them. Almost every organization will want to partner with one or both of these players. It is perfectly believable that many other virtual assistants will be designed to be compatible with these two.

Another assumption from the Nuance team is that the interaction between these assistants will remain fragmented. Work from the open source community, or from international associations, could well steer developers towards standardization and interoperability. But while the virtual assistants are continuing to speak different languages, it is a decent idea to create a new link on the value chain.

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The new AI Team; Baidu and Qualcomm

Qualcomm and Baidu have announced a strategic alliance to create an AI voice solution based on the new Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform and Baidu’s DuerOS Conversational AI System.

The aim will be to optimize Baidu’s DuerOS conversational artificial intelligence (AI) system for smartphones on the Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Platform to create a smart assistant solution for global smartphone and IoT devices. The DuerOS has been around since early 2017, though such a partnership might be a means for Baidu to take another step into the global tech space.

“Qualcomm Technologies continues to drive research into AI, and we are committed to the development of on-device AI, including audio. Qualcomm Technologies is pleased to collaborate with Baidu on AI for voice enabled solutions,” said Keith Kressin, SVP for Product Management at Qualcomm Technologies.

“The collaboration with Baidu will bring AI for voice enabled solutions to next-generation Snapdragon mobile platforms, allowing users to wakeup smartphones and IoT devices using their voice in their natural language at any time and at extremely low power, while utilizing Baidu’s DuerOS voice services.”

“Through the collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies, we will bring a new AI voice experience to OEMs of smartphones and IoT devices around the world. Leveraging Baidu’s strengths in AI, big data, knowledge graph, information and services ecosystems, DuerOS will support OEMs with its strong capabilities, while providing users with more comprehensive and quality information and services to satisfy their needs,” said Kun Jing, GM of the Duer business unit at Baidu.

The DuerOS is already in a number of products targeted at the Chinese market, and similar to offers from Google and Amazon, is activated by using the phrase ‘Xiaodu Xiaodu’. The OS already has 130 partners, and is one of the more popular smart assistant choices for third party hardware manufacturers in China. DuerOS has been incorporated into more than 100 branded devices ranging from refrigerators and air conditioners to mobile phones, TV set-top boxes and smart speakers.

While Baidu’s OS is a small player right now, this will certainly be one to keep an eye on. Chinese technology companies are proving very capable of competing on the global stage, so Google and Amazon would be well placed to keep a wary eye on developments here.

Alexa gets into bed with Cortana

Amazon and Microsoft have announced their previously competing voice-driven AI assistants are now an item.

The world can be a lonely place for virtual assistants. All the company they have are demanding millennials constantly asking what their latest email is or a retiree wondering what the weather is like in Florida or Beijing.

But for no longer. The sympathetic chaps over at Microsoft and Amazon have shown they have a caring side, arranging a playdate for Cortana with Alexa. As part of the new tie up, the two virtual assistants will be hooked up, meaning users can switch between the two, just by asking the assistant itself.

It’s a simple process. By simply saying ‘hey Cortana, open Alexa’ you’ll be able to liaise directly with your Amazon virtual assistant for shopping, or vice versa if you want to check your emails or your calendar on Outlook.

“Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

“The world is big and so multifaceted,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO. “There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience. It’s great for Echo owners to get easy access to Cortana.”

From Microsoft’s perspective it is a pretty smart move. Most people will use their virtual assistant for the trivial everyday things. Checking the weather, the weekly shop or changing music for instance. The virtual assistant trends are being realised in the consumer world, an arena which Microsoft doesn’t really have much say in nowadays. The tie in with Alexa brings Cortana into everyday life, and normalizes the idea of virtual assistants in your professional lives as well.

It’s not available yet, but before too long you’ll be able to access Alexa on via Cortana on Windows 10 PCs, followed by Android and iOS. On the other side of things, you’ll be able to access Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Show.

Elsewhere in the Alexa world, Amazon has released its Connected Speaker APIs, which allows customers to ask Alexa to play music wireless or multi-room speakers including brands like Sonos, Sound United, Bose, and Samsung.

This might seem like another small bit of news, but it is quite an important one; like the partnership with Microsoft, Alexa is spreading its influence to hardware which isn’t Amazon’s. The initial financial reward of virtual assistants like Alexa will be the hardware purchased by customers, but the long-term (and substantially bigger) prize will be controlling access to the customer.

Facebook created the social media walled garden and charges access to the customer. The potential is there for virtual assistants, as can be seen with Amazon’s recent tie up with UK online grocer Ocado. Users ask Alexa to add items to the shopping list, and then a delivery time is arranged at some point in the future. Google did a similar tie up with Walmart as well, and you can bet there will be more partnerships of this nature. Financials of such arrangements have not been unveiled just yet, but it would be a safe bet to assume the virtual assistants will be taking a cut for being the friendly face to the consumer.

The battle for control of the living room is beginning to hot up, and we originally thought Google was in the lead, but we’re not too sure anymore. The Ocado tie up is a good basis to build Amazon’s challenge to traditional supermarket shopping, with Microsoft it adds a different element with a monstrous user base and with the Connected Speaker API it is saying that Alexa can be everywhere, not just on Amazon or Microsoft hardware.

Predicting the winner is going to be difficult, as while Amazon is making headway right now, Google has a significant advantage. Google has claimed there are more than two billion Android monthly active users, which essentially means there are two billion devices which are there for the Google Assistant to enter the fray. The dominance of Android in the operating system game certainly gives Google an advantage, and that’s not even taking into account the Google Home devices which have been sold.

This is going to be a fascinating battle. We have two technology giants, with hugely respected and trusted brands, as well as different experiences in monetizing the digital revolution, going head-to-head to win control of the living room. Amazon has the retail experience, but Google has the advertising relationship. No-one else can really compete with the credentials, footprint or the current progress which has been made.

Google Assistant versus Alexa, it will be an epic one. Sorry Siri.