Are you ready for the next smart home digital assistant? Ready or not, here comes Cortana. Harman, a company known by audiophiles for its speakers, has announced the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker. The Invoke will give a countertop home to Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant equivalent to Alexa and Google Assistant.
The Invoke will be available in the US starting this fall, and for now, a spokesperson for Harman says there are no immediate plans to bring the product to other countries. While Harman won't announce the price until closer to the release date, it will likely aim for the under-$200 tag shared by competitors like the Amazon Echo ($129.99 at Home Depot) and the Google Home ($129.00 at Dell Home).
Cortana isn't new to the voice assistant market. Named after the AI character from the popular Halo video game series, it made its debut in 2014. Since then, Microsoft has made it available on Android and iOS phones, desktops and laptops using Windows 10 ($157.99 at Amazon.com), and even the Xbox One ($325.00 at Amazon.com).
What's interesting about this new partnership is Cortana's confident re-entry into the smart home space. Along with Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant, Apple's Siri and the more recently announced , Cortana will assume control of smart home devices like lights and thermostats -- as well as more conventional voice assistant territory, such as schedules and reminders -- from a central countertop location.
Harman's product is also notable because of its potential for audio quality. Unlike Amazon or Google, Harman has been developing speakers for years (aside from its Kardon line, it includes popular brands like JBL and AKG). The Invoke has a seven-microphone far-field listening array like the Echo's, but it also includes three woofers and three tweeters, as opposed to Echo's one of each. While this doesn't mean the sound quality of the Invoke will necessarily be better, it bodes well for the audio range of the device.
The biggest edge the Invoke will have over the Echo and Home will be its voice calling. By partnering with Skype (which, like Cortana, is owned by Microsoft), the Invoke will support Skype, phone and landline calls. This could be a huge addition to the smart speaker market, resurrecting the concept of a central communication hub in the home.
The voice assistant market is still developing, and while Amazon certainly has a head start, challengers are already rising up. Which voice assistant will walk away with the most control after the frantic territory grab of the next few years remains to be seen, but the Invoke will certainly be a contender to keep your eye on.