Panos Panay
Panos Panay oversaw hardware, Windows in 20-year tenure Image Credit: AP

Washington: Inc. is hiring Microsoft Corp.'s product chief to run the division responsible for the voice-activated Alexa assistant and Echo smart speakers, according to people familiar with the situation.

Panos Panay, an almost 20-year veteran who led Microsoft's Windows team and was central to the company's hardware push with its Surface computers, said Monday he's leaving the technology giant.

Dave Limp, the longtime Amazon hardware chief, said last month that he would retire before the end of the year.

Amazon and Microsoft declined to comment.

Amazon is holding its annual new devices event on Wednesday at its growing campus in Arlington, Virginia. The devices unit, which also makes Fire-branded television streaming sticks, tablets and the Kindle e-reader, was hit by layoffs last year as the company adjusted to slower growth and wound down some projects. Microsoft is also expected to show new hardware models, as well as artificial intelligence features, at an event in New York Thursday.

Panay's move marks the latest senior executive swap between the two companies. Two years ago, Microsoft hired senior Amazon cloud executive Charlie Bell to run its cybersecurity efforts. That initially raised the possibility that Amazon might file suit because Bell had signed an agreement prohibiting him from joining a rival. But the two companies reached a pact that allowed Bell to make the move.

One year ago, Microsoft removed non-competes from new employment agreements and said it will not enforce them in existing contracts, except for its most senior employees. The company hasn't sought to block such moves in several years.

Panay served as general manager for Surface when the initial tablets were introduced in 2012. Since then, he's led an expansion into laptops, desktops and accessories. The devices attracted comparisons to Apple, thanks to glitzy launch events and a focus on detail and high-quality design.

More recently, Microsoft has scaled back the Surface operation, axing personnel and cutting slow-selling products. The company's HoloLens mixed-reality goggles project, overseen by Panay since 2022, has also struggled, thanks in part to a delayed US Army contract.

Amazon in the last decade built a massive consumer electronics business that's mostly predicated on selling utilitarian, budget-priced hardware: Echo Dot speakers, Fire sticks and tablets. But the company's flagship product, the Alexa voice assistant, has struggled to build on its early promise as a companion, shopping and smart-home hub.

The emergence of ChatGPT and other conversant chatbots powered by generative artificial intelligence has highlighted Alexa's shortcomings. Amazon says generative AI is already making Alexa better, and that it will roll out more improvements soon.

Under Limp, the company developed a reputation for releasing unpolished but ambitious projects designed to extend Alexa's reach and cement Amazon's place at the center of Internet-connected homes. Some recent efforts to expand into bold new categories "- including a home robot called Astro and a yet-to-be-released indoor drone camera from Amazon's Ring unit "- have stalled.