Alexa is coming for you, Windows.
This spring, according to multiple reports, the Alexa bot will debut as an app on HP and Acer desktop computers. The idea is for you to talk to the bot during your work day as you would use an Amazon Echo speaker at home.
You can order products, ask about the weather, and control your music. When you do, the app will automatically show relevant information--a bit like the Amazon Echo Show bedside device but with the potential to do much more than show YouTube clips and tell you news reports. We don't know exactly how it will work yet as far as extending beyond the basic voice interface, but I can imagine some possibilities.
Before we get to that--there's one obvious problem here.
It's great that Alexa wants to help you on the desktop, but Microsoft already has a bot called Cortana that can help you dictate emails and tell you about the weather. I always forget to use it. Ironically, I'll ask the Echo speaker on my desk for news reports while I'm simultaneously browsing online. Cortana just doesn't seem to do that much, and many of my requests end up trailing off into the netherworld--the bot doesn't know the answer. With Alexa and the Google Assistant, things just seem to work out better.
What's exciting about Alexa running on the desktop is that Amazon might actually figure out a way to integrate with my normal routine. There's obviously some incredibly smart AI with these bots that normally runs on speakers; imagine what they can do with the added processing power. I'd love to be able to talk to Alexa and ask the bot to adjust the color quality in Photoshop, or to delete all of my unimportant emails, or to show me the trendy news stories of the day in Chrome. It's not going to happen right away, but there's a good chance a bot on a computer will mean far less typing, more AI, and less frustration.
Here's another example.
Let's say you decide you want to travel to Europe. OK, on a PC today you normally start hunting around online for the best prices. You look at photos of the hotel. You email your friends and ask them if they recommend places to visit. All of those activities are easier on a PC today using a browser. With Alexa on a speaker, or even on a small screen, it's just not the place you do real work. You can't save anything or tag anything. I do my "real" thinking at a keyboard these days, where I know I can research any topic with a click.
But what if we research any topic by voice?
I love the idea of telling Alexa--hey, I am taking a trip to Europe. The bot might use some complex AI that Amazon hasn't even invented yet to find photos, look for hotels, and track cheaper flights. It's the promise of a true digital assistant, an AI that helps me at my desk on the screen I normally use all day--augmenting the typing and research I do anyway. And, Alexa can do many of these tasks in the background. Eventually, the bot might pop up and tell me it has found a great itinerary--a flight, a hotel I'd normally like.
Now, to be fair, Google already has a bot on a computer--the Google Pixelbook. But it's really just a way to access the Assistant. I'm talking about integrating the bot into the operating system eventually and changing how we work entirely.
As you can guess, Cortana is not even close to offering this new functionality. Neither is Alexa. But the move to the desktop makes sense because it's a perfect match. A keyboard, mouse, an HD screen and a bot is like a nirvana state of technology. The bot can remind us about appointments, help us dictate documents, offer to play music that matches what we're doing on the computer, and even become part of our social media experiences. It's a smart move, one that will be fun to test out when it debuts later this spring.