Cnet reported last week that Skype is discontinuing its integrated Cortana bot on April 30th, 2019, and is now promoting Amazon Alexa voice assistant integration. OnMSFT is reporting that Skype users have been seeing promotional offerings of 200 free minutes when they link their Skype and Amazon accounts. Microsoft and Amazon announced Skype calling on Alexa in November 2018, at the time of that announcement they were also offering 200 minutes of free calls once user’s Skype and Alexa accounts had been linked. Even though this promotional offer may not be new, it is significant that it is being more heavily promoted now that the Cortana bot will be leaving soon. Twitter user Florian Beaubois took screenshots of the Skype notifications to users:
MICROSOFT IS DOWNPLAYING THE VOICE ASSISTANT SWITCH
A Microsoft spokesperson told Cnet that the Alexa promotion and Cortana’s discontinuation are unrelated. When the Cortana chat bot leaves at the end of April, Skype will still offer Cortana suggestions which can be personalized to a user or chat when given permission. Cortana suggestions are like smart replies, they appear in a chat conversation as emoticons, GIFs, weather, movies, or restaurants. A user can select the suggestion to include it in a reply. The Microsoft spokesperson said in an email,
We are constantly evaluating and testing our products to ensure they offer the best and most productive experiences. We are discontinuing the Cortana bot within Skype, but Cortana suggestions are still available.
Microsoft announced plans to integrate Cortana into Skype as a bot at Microsoft Build 2016. The integration allowed users to order food, book trips, transcribe video messages and make calendar appointments through Cortana. In December 2016, Microsoft announced it’s own smart speaker, INVOKE, in collaboration with Harman Kardon, featuring the ability for users to make and receive calls on Skype with Cortana.
WHY MICROSOFT’S PROMOTION OF A RIVAL VOICE ASSISTANT MAKES SENSE
At first glance, it seems pretty odd that Microsoft is promoting an Alexa integration with Skype rather than its in-house Cortana. However, the decision does make sense when considering Cortana’s enterprise focus. Late January 2019 Business Insider reported that Microsoft admitted it can’t beat Amazon and Google in the voice assistant war. Commentsfrom Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella to The Verge confirmed Microsoft’s plans to evolve Cortana into an app or service that will work with other voice assistant platforms. So the move could just be a part of Microsoft’s plans to scale back Cortana and focus on its enterprise use. Nadella said,
Cortana needs to be that skill for anybody who’s a Microsoft 365 subscriber.
Cortana already has deep integration with the Office Suite, allowing Alexa users to leverage Cortana to schedule meetings, access calendars, and set reminders. Business Insider also reports that Cortana is the most popular voice assistant among enterprises in North America and Europe with nearly half, 49%, of companies in these regions that use a voice assistant using Cortana. In addition, another 13% of enterprises in North America and Europe plan to implement Cortana in 2019 according to data from the Business Insider Intelligence’s New Tech Survey.
Microsoft’s decision to retire the Cortana chat-bot in Skype and promote Alexa integration with Skype is a move that could prove useful in the long run by allowing Microsoft to enhance itself as an open, cross-platform ecosystem. Voicebot’s Bret Kinsella wrote about Cortana’s enterprise focus in 2016 in VentureBeat, in 2017 on Voicebot.ai, and again in January 2019 on Voicebot.ai.