Microsoft said Monday that it has partnered with audio equipment maker Harman Kardon to put the tech giant's voice-activated assistant, Cortana, into a smart speaker of its very own. The Invoke, as the speaker is called, will allow its owners to use the speaker like a phone, by using Microsoft's Skype. It will also have features similar to its competitors, such as the ability to control smart appliances and tell users what the traffic conditions are like on their commutes, what the latest news is, and what their schedules look like that day.
The move puts Microsoft into direct competition with Amazon's Echo and Google Home — both smart speakers that are designed to act as a "home hub" for smart devices and digital information.
(Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Microsoft hasn't announced a smart speaker that it will make, but it appears to be partnering with firms to create gadgets dedicated to its voice assistant. Amazon's Alexa assistant, which powers its Echo speakers, has also made the jump to other gadgets through partnerships with other companies; Google is expected to do the same with its assistant.
Analysts have pointed to home hubs and voice assistants as a major next battleground for tech companies, as the firms look to permeate even more aspects of consumers' lives. A home hub is placed to anchor a larger web of devices such as lightbulbs and — possibly — vehicles that can be activated by voice and tap into a central bank of data that can be used to run consumers' lives.
Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung have all introduced their own named voice assistants.
Microsoft first introduced Cortana in 2013; it originally worked on Windows PCs and Windows Phone. The company also released apps that allow the assistant to work on Android and iOS devices, but this is the first time the software has showed up in a dedicated device.
The fight for dominance in the home hub space is expected to become even fiercer. Apple is also rumored to be making a similar device for its Siri digital assistant, according to a recent note from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. (Kuo put the chances of an Apple device at more than 50 percent, according to a report from MacRumors.)
Harman Kardon — a division of Samsung Electronics subsidiary Harman — said the Invoke speaker will be available in the fall at Microsoft stores and "select retail partners." It has not released a price for the speaker.