It’s Official: Satya Nadella Confirms Cortana Defeat

Posted on January 18, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Smart Home, Windows 10 with 136 Comments

In a stunning bit of transparency, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella confirmed that Cortana will never be competitive with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. So it will instead be recast as a skill for those more popular assistants, as has long been rumored.

“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? We, quite frankly, decided that we would do the former,” Mr. Nadella reportedly said at a media day at Microsoft’s Redmond campus to which Thurrott.com was not invited. “Because Cortana needs to be that skill for anyone who is a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber.”

Microsoft announced that it would integrate Cortana with Amazon Alexa, and it finally enabled the first version of that integration last year. But Nadella confirmed that he wants to work with Google Assistant as well.

“You should also be able to use [Cortana] on Google Assistant,” he also reportedly said. “You should be able to use it on Alexa, just like you use our apps on Android or iOS. So that’s at least how we want to go.”

According to reports, Nadella said that Microsoft saw what was happening in the smart speaker market and realized that it would always be an also-ran, just as it was in smartphones. But this time, the software giant felt that it could still be a major player, just behind the scenes. And that strategy actually makes some sense, if belatedly: Cortana now powers many lower-tier digital assistants, including those from carmaker BMW.

“The challenge is, exactly what would we be able to do in that category that is going to be unique?,” Nadella said of smart speakers.

The challenge, really, is that Microsoft never made any serious effort to compete in this market. And that it let it fall through its fingers years ago, despite repeatedly talking about making the “next wave” after mobile. Ambient computing is the next wave, now the current wave. And whether Nadella’s new approach will work over the long term, and make it a major player in this computing wave, is still very much unclear.

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