AMAZON HAS ANNOUNCED an upgrade to its Alexa voice assistant which pretty much destroys any hope for Microsoft's Cortana.
The world-dominating voice assistant is already available as a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app to Windows 10 users - but there's a new weapon within; now you can use it hands free.
Up to now, Alexa for Windows has relied on you clicking a button to trigger it to listen. Now, for the first time, you can set Alexa to be 'always on' just as an Echo device is, meaning a simple war cry of 'Alexa' will wake her up to do your bidding.
We've tried it and it works - it's a little bit retecent to respond to a wake word it's not sure about, but once you get its attention, it responds exactly as you'd expect Alexa to respond.
A few devices with the appropriate far-field microphones already had a hands-free option, but for the majority of us, it's a new toy to play with.
The upshot of this is long and complicated. It could be that Alexa for Windows 10 cannibalises the market for Echo and third party Alexa devices. After all, why have an Echo in the room when your always-on laptop or Xbox does the same thing?
On the other hand, it's worse for Cortana. Despite the fact that Cortana and Alexa can call on each other, they are still very much separate products, and the addition of Alexa to Windows 10 increases the redundancy of Cortana - it doesn't do much that Alexa doesn't.
Microsoft took a calculated risk by not creating a speaker equivalent to Google Home and Amazon Echo, hoping to leverage the millions of Windows devices to create a network of voice assistants.
The arrival of Echo to Windows 10 pretty much means that has backfired fairly spectacularly.
The latest version of Windows 10 will split the search and Cortana functions into two separate processes, a sure sign that there's a rethink afoot. μ
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