Microsoft's Cortana now has 230 skills (and Amazon's Alexa, 25,000)

Microsoft's Cortana is lagging far behind Amazon's Alexa when it comes to available skills, and doesn't look to catch up any time soon.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Video: Your Skype account just got a new contact: AI assistant Cortana

There are currently 230 skills, or supplemental apps, available for Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant, while there are at least 25,000 for Amazon's Alexa.

(Credit: Microsoft)

No, that's not a typo. I'm not missing a comma or some zeros. There are only 230 Cortana skills, as of December 2017. And this includes as part of the total more than a few school fight songs.

This isn't optimal for Cortana and its fans, to say the least.

Microsoft was late getting its Cortana Skills Kit to market. Its original target for delivery was end of February 2017, but the actual announcement of the public preview of the kit didn't happen until May 2017.

The Cortana Skills Kit was design to allow developers to make use of services and/or bots created with the Microsoft Bot Framework and publish them to Cortana as a new skill. Microsoft officials also said that developers using the kit could opt to repurpose code from existing Alexa skills.

This week, Microsoft made its Azure Bot service generally available. The Azure Bot Service, which helps developers build conversational bots, works across 14 channels, including Cortana, Facebook Messenger, and Skype using text, speech, cards, and/or images.

Microsoft also announced this week a couple of new features for developers and customers of Cortana skills. Microsoft added support for Skills suggestions and Cortana skills chaining -- both of which Microsoft is touting as making use of its advances in search and AI.

Microsoft also announced this week that developers can take advantage of the Microsoft Knowledge Graph Exchange to more easily build skills using prebuilt modules, called botlets, that encapsulate data, language understanding, and logic.

Word about Microsoft's plans for botlets leaked at the start of this year. At that time, Microsoft was believed to be building a BotletStore to give developers access to these modular botlet components. Currently, there are about two dozen pre-built botlets available to Cortana developers.

Amazon and Microsoft announced a partnership deal involving Alexa and Cortana this past Summer, the first deliverables of which were slated to arrive before year-end. I asked Microsoft officials today if Alexa and Cortana would be able to work together as announced before the year is out. So far, no word back from Microsoft.

In the meantime, however, Amazon is taking direct aim at Cortana with Alexa for Business.

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