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Microsoft Cortana is finally playing catch-up with Amazon Alexa

  • Microsoft Cortana is gaining new third party skills
  • Users can book a table with OpenTable or check the weather with Dark Sky
  • Dedicated Echo-like devices still aren't available, and Alexa still offers thousands of additional skills.
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft
Getty Images
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft

Microsoft's Cortana voice assistant is finally gaining new skills that will help it catch up with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Previously, Cortana could tap into Microsoft's services to check the weather, play music or schedule appointments, and worked with some apps that could be installed from the Windows Store, like Netflix. But it wasn't open to a broad array of third party applications. That's changing now.

The first such services were announced during Microsoft's Build developer conference on Wednesady and include the popular weather app Dark Sky, iHeart radio, OpenTable, TuneIn and Domino's. With OpenTable, users can ask Cortana to make dinner reservations at a restaurant. With Domino's, they'll be able to order pizza by voice.

Microsoft only introduced a handful of services, however, which means Cortana still has a really long way to go before it's on a par with Alexa or Google Assistant.

Those two services offer thousands of "skills," or commands users can execute that tap into third party applications. You can ask Alexa to play music through Spotify, book an Uber or send a text message through AT&T, and that's not even scratching the surface.

Also, Microsoft doesn't yet offer its own smart speaker where users can access Cortana, like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. For now, you'll need to access Cortana through Windows or from an iOS or Android smartphone with the Cortana application installed.

Microsoft's partners are developing new products that are more like the Echo and Home, however. HP has announced its intentions to sell a Cortana speaker, for example, while Harman Kardon announced its first product earlier this week.

As developers create more skills for Cortana, those devices will continue to become increasingly more powerful.