We’ve all been wondering what Microsoft was up to on the smart home assistant front, but the company was as secretive about the whole thing as Apple usually tries to be with any new iPhone. But Microsoft has actually pulled it off this time.
While everyone was distracted with the HomeHub on Windows 10 PCs, Microsoft has stealthily been working with Harman International Industries – now owned by Samsung Electronics, incidentally – to create a Microsoft Cortana-powered smart home speaker with Harman/Kardon audio.
Harman/Kardon is one of the leading audio brands in the world, specifically in the automobile audio market where it has a 17% market share.
So, it would seem that, while others like Google and Amazon are focusing on the voice-based interactive capabilities of their own products – Google Home with Google Assistant and Amazon Echo with Alexa – Microsoft has something else in mind. And it begins with having the best audio system possible for its product.
Partnering with Harman is just one ace up Microsoft’s sleeves, it seems. The other disruptive tech it plans to bring in a display into the device, something that they plan to have on all future Cortana-enabled devices. It was earlier reported that Amazon was working on a new version of Echo that would include a touchscreen interface, but it looks like Microsoft could beat them to the punch.
Microsoft also recently released the Cortana Skills Kit and Cortana Devices SDK to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and ODMs (original design manufacturers), who can receive updates as Cortana moves out of private preview. This is to allow equipment makers to include Cortana functionality into their own products.
More importantly, it will also developers to piggyback on Alexa Skills and repurpose them for Cortana.
Here’s the video where you can clearly see similarities to Amazon Echo:
The blue ring at the top is distinctively Amazon Echo, as you can clearly see in the video, but Microsoft isn’t looking to create a copy of the Echo: they’re merely standing on its shoulders and taking the smart speaker to another level – something Amazon will now have to aspire to with its next model of Echo.
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