Microsoft Unveils Cortana Speaker Ahead Of Build

Cortana Invoke
Cortana Invoke

The forgotten contender in the digital assistant race is Cortana, Microsoft’s proprietary offering. To better compete with Google and Amazon, there’s now a Cortana-laden mini-speaker tower for your home.

In partnership with Harmon Kardon, Microsoft is introducing the Invoke, which lets you invoke (see what they did there?) Cortana with a simple spoken command. The graphite or pearl silver hardware has seven microphones that leverage Harmon’s “Sonique” far-field voice recognition technology (which reportedly uses “beam forming, echo cancellation and noise reduction algorithms,” along with three woofers paired with three tweeters, to produce some fairly solid 360-degree sound).

Since Microsoft owns Skype, Invoke also has Skype calling built in. It’s not clear how many rely on Skype as their calling service, but it’s solid technology and brings the ability to call anyone you like.

But the star of the show is Cortana. “We want Cortana to be available wherever you may need assistance being more productive, and the Invoke speaker from Harman Kardon is our next step in getting there,” says Microsoft.

In addition to premium 360 sound, at the heart of Invoke is Cortana. With Cortana on the Invoke speaker, you can play your favorite music, manage calendars and activities, set reminders, check traffic, and deliver the latest news and much more.

With natural language recognition and deep integration with Microsoft’s suite of knowledge and productivity tools, Cortana is the most productive digital assistant and already used by more than 145 million people on PC and mobile devices. With Invoke, Cortana now becomes available in the home, making her even more valuable.

Invoke arrives two days ahead of Build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference. Incidentally, many expected this speaker to arrive during the event. Not only did Harmon Kardon tease it late last year, but it’s high time Cortana branched out from its home on Windows and smartphones.

Although Cortana has an iOS and Android app, it does its best work when dipping and diving through Outlook and Office. That begs the question of how useful Invoke might prove to those consumers who don’t use Microsoft’s services (and thus provide data that Cortana can actually use).

It’s possible that Invoke is a precursor for more Cortana news at Build. Microsoft already encourages users to repurpose Alexa skills and bots via Cortana, but a home speaker is a new platform for the company. Partnering with Harmon Kardon, rather than building a ‘Surface speaker,’ may also spark more partnerships.