Amazon on Tuesday announced a new multi-room music playback feature for their Amazon Echo Internet-connected smart speaker lineup. In related news, Amazon and Microsoft are reportedly joining forces to improve their voice-controlled digital assistants, Alexa and Cortana.
From the Amazon Press Release:
Multi-Room Music on Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show
You can now synchronize your music playback across Echo devices to play songs from Amazon Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Pandora, with support for Spotify and SiriusXM coming soon. Simply use the Alexa App to create groups with two or more Echo devices by naming the group, such as “downstairs.” Once you’ve created the group, simply say “Alexa, play John Mayer downstairs.”
Customers in the US, UK, and Germany can start using multi-room music today on their Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show devices.
Amazon will also debut new tools early in 2018 that will allow Alexa Voice Service (AVS) device makers to integrate with the Amazon Alexa Multi-Room Music feature. A customer will be able to use any Alexa-enabled device to play music throughout their home on their connected audio systems. Amazon is working on this with Sonos, Bose, Sound United, and Samsung.
The Connected Speaker APIs are available in developer preview starting today.
Device makers can learn more about the new AVS developer tools here.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that in an unusual move for the hotly contested digital assistant marketplace, Microsoft and Amazon have been working behind the scenes to make Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa communicate with each other.
The partnership, which the companies plan to announce on Wednesday, will allow users to summon Cortana using Alexa, and vice versa. The new features are expected to be available by the end of the year.
CEOs Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Satya Nadella of Microsoft say they were concerned that keeping assistants from working together could hold them back. They say each assistant has unique strengths that could benefit the other assistants.
As an example, Mr. Bezos cited Cortana’s superior integration with Outlook, the popular calendar and email application that is part of the Microsoft Office suite of software. Because Microsoft controls both products, Outlook is integrated more deeply with Cortana than with other voice assistants. Through its collaboration with Microsoft, Amazon said, Alexa users will get answers to some of the same questions that Cortana can now answer — for instance, when is the next budget review with the boss?
Initially, the integration sounds as if it will be a bit awkward, as an Alexa device user will need to say “Alexa, Open Cortana” followed by a command, and a Cortana users will be required to utter “Cortana, Open Alexa,” followed by the command.
More details about the Microsoft/Amazon partnership are expected to be revealed on Wednesday.