Is Cross-Platform Video Conferencing Viable Now That Cortana and Alexa Are Becoming Friends?

Is cross-platform video conferencing the next big thing?

Artificial intelligence has reached its highest form of human imitation to date–it has become celebrity gossip.  In August, word was released that two of the tech world’s most popular virtual assistants, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa, were getting together. While they are strictly friends, even a friendship between the leading faces of two major tech rivals is worthy of a little electronic E! News treatment.

Initially at least, the relationship will be a cold marriage of convenience. You’ll be able to use one of the virtual assistants to access the features of the other. However, in time the two could become bridges to the broader services on offer by their tech giant parents.

With Amazon having just entered the video conferencing market with Chime, and Microsoft unveiling a new, trendier version of Skype, the friendly bond between Alexa and Cortana could make meaningful cross-platform video conferencing possible for the first time. The fruit of that union would make video calling more accessible than ever.

Cortana and Alexa Are Talking

Amazon and Microsoft announced their collaboration in late August with complementary, and complimentary, press releases–you can pick your favorite here and here.

Meet Cortana:
Introduced with Windows 10 and compatible with Windows, iOS, and Android phones.
Uses Bing search engine, speaks 8 languages, and links between phone and desktop.

While it’s novel to see such large tech companies working together so directly, there’s really little reason for competition is this case. For a kick-off, you’ll need to have both assistants actively involved in your life already to make it worthwhile. Secondly, the partnership is aimed at Amazon’s online shopping and smart home devices–where Microsoft has little invested–and Microsoft’s more business-related functions such as scheduling and video conferencing, areas Amazon has only recently explored.

Meet Alexa:
Introduced in 2013 with Amazon Echo. Pairs with apps such as ESPN, AccuWeather, Spotify, and Apple Music. Operates smarthome devices including Belkin Wemo, ecobee, and Insteon.

That said, the impending link (both companies have vaguely stated the conversation won’t start until “later this year”) will make things easier for people who currently use both services. If you’re at home with Alexa you can use voice-activation to check in with Cortana and go over your meeting diary. Conversely, if you’re out on your iOS or Android phone you could have Cortana ask Alexa to switch on the heater at home.

 Things would get more interesting, however, if you were able to use your Cortana app to talk to someone else’s Alexa, and vice-versa. Or, more accurately, if you could use Skype to put in a video call to someone on Chime.

From Personal Assistants to Video Chat

Despite the ideals of a level internet playing field, every major video calling app is a world unto itself. Regardless of the device, Skype callers can only call other Skype handles, Facetime users can only to talk to other FaceTime users, and so on across even the new social media-based apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Amazon Chime

  • $15/month per user
  • Up to 100 users per session
  • Screen sharing/video recording
  • 1 GB storage per user

Microsoft has gone a little way toward lowering the walls by allowing non-members to use Skype, but that doesn’t help anyone who wants to join the conversation from Google Hangouts, for instance.

Skype for Business

  • $5.50/month per user
  • Up to 250 users per session
  • Screen sharing/translation/recording
  • 50 GB storage per user

To be clear, the imminent Alexa/Cortana friendship hasn’t been suggested as a cure for cross-platform exclusion. But we can look a few years down the road and predict that what is possible will one day become reality. And it is certainly possible. To make the rival virtual assistants communicate, both Amazon and Microsoft have to give a little ground and provide each with a common language to unlock access to the other. Since clearly that watershed moment has already occurred, it wouldn’t be a great leap to imagine the same thing happening to Skype and Chime.

And doing so wouldn’t mean giving up any competitive advantage one company might feel they have over the other.

The Future of Cross-Platform Video Conferencing

Microsoft and Amazon have traditionally kept out of each other’s way in commercial ventures. Even the increasingly contested voice-activated virtual assistant arena has remained civil, with Microsoft leaving the hardware end to Amazon’s Echo speakers, and Amazon keeping its tech out of the office.

That changed when Amazon released Chime earlier this year. While the initial app is a disappointing mediocrity considering the company’s history of tech innovation (see our Amazon Chime review post), it is still direct competition for Microsoft’s premium video conferencing app, Skype for Business.

Virtual Assistants

  • Microsoft: Cortana
  • Amazon: Alexa
  • Google: Google Assistant
  • Apple: Siri
  • Samsung: Bixby

Linking the two would be an initial win for Amazon, seeing as its user base understandably trails Skype’s. There’s no need for that to be a dealbreaker, however. Skype offers the better service, for now at least, and could limit any loss to Chime by offering direct connection to any offices or friends that have switched. There’s a big advantage to being the incumbent in this case. Any hardware a company has configured to Skype settings would have to be replaced to transfer to Chime. Why bother, when you can call Chime without changing the way you yourself currently work?

Beyond the desires of these two tech giants, the reasons to push for cross-platform video calling are clear. It would mean being able to call anyone, anytime, across two giant platforms. The effect is easier to see with a more established Skype partner like FaceTime or the business-focused platforms like GoToMeeting. If Skype went so far as to link with any video calling platform, it’d become a master key to video collaboration. Giving up a little independence could make it the default video app across the social and commercial worlds.

All thanks to a little small talk between Alexa and Cortana.

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