Virtual Private Assistants: Alexa and Cortana

Virtual Private Assistants: Alexa and Cortana

According to a survey conducted by IT research firm Gartner, “by 2019, VPAs will have changed the way users interact with devices and become universally accepted as part of everyday life. Today, VPAs are fulfilling simple tasks such as setting the alarm or retrieving information from the web, but in the near future these systems will be able to deliver more complex tasks such as completing a transaction based on past, present and predicted context.” The virtual private assistants have been acquiring new capabilities to perform advanced tasks. They use artificial intelligence and machine learning to respond to voice commands proactively and facilitate conversational commerce. While developing mobile apps for iOS, mobile app developers take advantage of Apple’s Siri. Likewise, Google Assistant is used widely by developers while developing mobile apps for Android platform. But many app developers are still unaware of widely used virtual private assistants Alexa and Cortana.

Amazon Alexa

Amazon has designed Alexa as an intelligent assistant that enable users to access information and perform certain tasks through voice commands. Alexa uses artificial intelligence (AI) to respond to users’ voice commands proactively. At present, consumers can perform simple tasks through the intelligent assistant while using certain devices and home automation systems – Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Show. They can even use Alexa to perform simple tasks like playing music, playing audio books, streaming podcasts, setting alarms, accessing shopping lists and creating to-do lists through voice commands.

A user can download Alexa app from Apple App Store, Google Play Store, or Amazon AppStore. But he must install the specific skills on the Alexa-enabled devices to operate them through voice commands. The developers can generate revenue by developing innovative voice experiences or skills for Alexa. Amazon has made it easier for programmers to create new Alexa Skills by providing the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). The ASK includes the self-service APIs required to develop a variety of Alexa skills – custom skills, smart home skills, video skills and flash briefing skills.

The developers can even use ASK to upload new voice experience and make the skills accessible to consumers. However, Amazon recommends app developers to focus extensively on the voice user experience (VUI) while developing new skill for Alexa. The developers must create VUIs that customize voice experience and enable users to interact with the Alexa-enabled devices through voice commands. The developers can further accelerate Alexa skill development by implementing latest trends in VUI development – machine learning, natural language understanding (NLU), and text to speech (TTS).

Microsoft Cortana

Cortana was initially developed by Microsoft as a personal intelligent assistant for desktop and mobile devices running on Windows 10. Microsoft subsequently made Cortana available on popular mobile platforms like iOS and Android. Hence, both mobile app users and developers can now use Cortana as a cross-platform personal intelligent assistant. The consumers can use Cortana to accomplish simple tasks like send emails and text messages, create and manage lists, get reminders, play games, open apps, set reminders and  find files and information.

Cortana can perform these tasks by responding to users’ voice commands proactively. Recently, Microsoft announced its decision to add third-party skills capability to Cortana. The third-party skills capability creates opportunity for app developers to generate revenue by developing new skills for Cortana. Microsoft has already announced Cortana Skills Kit to accelerate development of new skills for Cortana. The Cortana Skills Set includes the tools, services, APIs, docs, and bot framework required to develop new Cortana skills.

The developers can even use the Cortana Skills Kit to promote the voice experiences and engage use experience. They can even run the skills on any device or platform on which the code runs. Hence, the developers can run the same skills on iOS, Android, and Windows devices. The option further makes it easier for developers to write cross-platform and portable skills. However, Microsoft is yet to release Cortana Skills Kit officially. The company has already released public preview versions of the toolset for testing. The developers will soon be able to create skills for multiple devices and platforms by using Cortana Skills Kit.

On the whole, Alexa and Cortana are popular virtual private assistants. But they are lesser popular than Siri and Google Assistant. In one of my previous articles, I have compared Cortona vs Siri. App developers can use these VPAs to create innovative apps for a variety of devices. They can further create new skills for Alexa and Cortana to generate revenue and beat competition. Microsoft and Amazon had teamed up and planned that Alexa and Cortona will talk to each other by end of 2017. Unfortunately, Alexa and Cortona dont work with each other yet, we hope to get the big news very soon.

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