Microsoft has delayed the release of its tools for connecting other services to the Cortana virtual assistant, a decision that could cause it to lose ground in a crowded industry.
The tech titan announced the Cortana Skills Kit in December of last year, saying at the time that it would be released to the public in February. As Microsoft watcher Brad Sams noted on Twitter, Microsoft missed that deadline, and the Skills Kit remains locked in a private beta with a select group of partners. Microsoft didn’t offer an explanation for the delay, saying in a statement that the kit will be coming soon.
The Skills Kit is important for Microsoft in the virtual assistant market, since Cortana is competing with the likes of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Both of those are integrated with external services, with Alexa boasting more than 10,000 integrations.
Delaying the availability of the Cortana Skills Kit isn’t a disaster, according to IDC Research Manager Jonathan Gaw. While third-party integrations are a key part of Cortana’s future, he doesn’t think a brief delay will sink Microsoft’s virtual assistant.
“The difficulty is, with every passing day, they kind of fall behind Amazon a little bit more,” Gaw said.
According to Microsoft, it's easy for developers to port the Alexa skills that they’ve built for Amazon’s virtual assistant over to Cortana. If that’s the case, Amazon’s early integration lead may not be as massive, assuming developers want to port their skills.
In December, Microsoft said a handful of partners were developing for the Cortana Skills Kit, including Capital One, Expedia, Knowmail and TalkLocal. It’s not clear whether any other companies have joined the program since then.
The delay may be partly due to the Windows 10 Creators Update, a major update to Microsoft’s most recent operating system, which the company appears to be finishing. Cortana has been updated independent of Windows in the past, but it’s possible the team working on the virtual assistant is more dedicated to ensuring the quality of the forthcoming OS update.