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Tech Crunch reports that even as Amazon expands its US food business presence with the acquisition of Whole Foods, “other supermarket players are figuring out their own strategic responses to Jeff Bezos’ big food fight. UK online supermarket brand Ocado has today outed an app for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, enabling users to add groceries to their shopping list by voice — at least if they also own one of Amazon’s AI-powered Echo smart speakers.”

According to the story, “The app lets users add a product to an existing Ocado order or basket via voice command — though the phrasing for this is pretty clunky, with users needing to speak two brand names (Alexa and Ocado) to amend their orders by voice. (It gives the following sample command: ‘Alexa, ask Ocado to add carrots to my order’ — which is a bit of a mouthful for something that’s billed as increasing convenience for shoppers.)

“New orders also cannot currently be created via the Alexa app — Ocado says it’s intended for updating existing orders only. Its envisaged use-case is someone realizing they’ve run out of a certain product when they’re in the middle of cooking, and being able to add it to their list without having to break off from whatever they’re chopping.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Amazon and Microsoft - each of which has its own digital assistant product, the Alexa and the Cortana - have now completed a partnership agreement that allows the two systems to interface with each other.

“It is unusual for big tech companies to cooperate on important new technologies that they want to stand out from the competition,” the Times writes. “Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google and nearly every other big tech company is pouring huge amounts of money into making digital assistants that are smarter and can do more, seeing them as a new way for people to interact naturally with devices and online services.” But Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella apparently have been persuaded - or persuaded each other - that “each assistant has unique strengths that could benefit the other assistants.”

Bezos, for example, cites “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?”

At the same time, Cortana users may find that having access to the Amazon ecosystem will help them shop online more efficiently.
KC's View:
I find this interesting because it sort of fits into something else I’ve been thinking about lately. One question that comes up a lot, especially in the wake of the Amazon-Whole Foods deal, is what I think the next big merger/acquisition will be. I’m beginning to think that we’re more likely to see tie-ups like these, with companies of all kinds looking for partnerships and strategic alliances that will create greater value without going through all the trouble of a legal marriage.

The fact is that such connections probably will best serve consumers, even if they don’t necessarily offer the biggest bang to the partnering entities. But I’ll take a sustainable impact on business over a big bang any day.