Microsoft’s Cortana quietly gains 230 skills behind Alexa’s 25,000

Perhaps it is mere coincidence that as Microsoft began throttling its Windows 10 Mobile development the air and enthusiasm around the company’s digital assistant seemed to dissipate. I hope not to come off hyperbolic because I’m not pointing to the reduction in press coverage but rather the strikingly correlated feel that limiting Microsoft’s Cortana native presence to just the desktop seems to have stunted its potential growth, developer creativity, and customer mindshare.

Conversely, Amazon’s pivot away from its arguably disastrous smartphone tryst has all but embolden the company to push forward with its digital assistant Alexa and comparatively speaking, Amazon is lapping Microsoft’s efforts almost 100 fold.

According to a report from Mary Jo Foley and our own anecdotal investigating, Cortana has approximately 230 skills (add-on functionality) that vary from asking it details about upcoming trips to ordering Pizza from Domino’s. While the list might seem impressive to Microsoft fans, it unquestionably pales in comparison to the Amazon Alexa list of 25,000 skills that fill niche request such as playing Jeopardy or receiving random quotes from Wikipedia.

Amazon’s device

The canyon between Alexa and Cortana development similarly reflects the divide between Chrome and Edge in the browser space. Perhaps, Microsoft is attempting to take the same focused and cautionary approach to Cortana development as it is doing with Edge, but when it comes to consumers, sometimes the fastest moving product gains all the attention leaving little room for perceived “me-too” solutions.

Despite the outward appearance, Microsoft isn’t sitting on its hands with Cortana, (perhaps merely pausing to tie its uneven shoelaces), the company has released several development tools and kits to spark interest in its digital assistant. Recently, items such Azure’s Bot service was made generally available to developers to help tie in messaging services such as Skype and Facebook Messenger. Microsoft also revealed that it’s working on Cortana Skill Chaining, which is probably a call back to the company announcing advances in its AI development and botlets.

While Cortana development seems to be stuck in the proverbial molasses right now, it would appear that Microsoft engineers are at least looking to keep pace with providing the toolsets necessary to make a great Cortana experience in the future.

Interestingly enough, the symphony of doom calls that erupted shortly after Microsoft seemingly lost interest in mobile (I being one of the chorus) never made their way to Amazon who also fantastically failed in smartphones. Furthermore, Amazon’s mindshare in the digital assistance space also stands as proof that not everything has to stem from or be done on a smartphone.

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