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Why can’t you simply pick and choose which smart assistant you want to use on your favorite smart devices?

Good question, and on the day before it’s slated to reveal its latest Alexa-powered gadgets, Amazon says it has a solution: a new initiative that aims to ensure that smart-device users are free to choose which digital assistant they want to use on their devices, be it Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Orange’s Djingo, or Salesforce’s Einstein.

Notice any digital assistants missing from that list? Alexa’s biggest competitors: Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Samsung’s Bixby.

In its announcement, Amazon ticked off more than 30 companies that are on board with its Voice Interoperability Initiative, ranging from BMW and Bose to Logitech and Spotify. Other boldface brands include Sonos, Sony Audio Group, Intel, Qualcomm, Ecobee, and Verizon.

Amazon says its initiative has four main goals: to foster voice services that work “seamlessly” with each other, to ensure smart devices support multiple wake words, to develop technologies that make it easier for multiple voice services to co-exist on a single device, and to boost the quality of voice interactions through “machine learning and conversational AI research.”

That all sounds quite logical, and indeed, there’s no practical reason that smart-device users (who have long been bedeviled by a confusing swirl of IoT standards and platforms) should need to switch voice assistants depending on the smart gadget they’re using.

Generally speaking, smart devices with a baked-in voice assistant tend to have only one of the big three (four, if you count Samsung’s Bixby). There are exceptions, including newer smart speakers from Sonos, such as the Sonos Move, which lets you use either Alexa or Google Assistant. That said, Sonos doesn’t let you seamlessly switch between the competing assistants; instead, you must choose one or the other in the device’s software settings.

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Frustratingly, but unsurprisingly, the question isn’t whether the big players in the voice assistant arena can play nice together, but will they.



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