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article imageMicrosoft not giving up on Cortana, announces new devices

By James Walker     Jan 10, 2018 in Technology
Digital assistants have been one of the most prominent technologies at this year's CES, with Alexa and Google Assistant appearing in new devices. Microsoft announced today it's still interested in assistance too, promising several new Cortana devices.
Microsoft's aims for Cortana are increasingly hazy as the digital assistance market heats up. Widely launched in 2015 with Windows 10, the plan for Cortana was for Windows users to become locked into an emerging AI ecosystem. In practice, this hasn't happened. Cortana now lags behind its rivals with fewer capabilities and an almost nonexistent presence in the smart home.
In a blog post today, Microsoft described 2017 as an "exciting and productive" year for Cortana. Following the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker, it announced four new reference designs for Cortana devices. These include products from Allwinner, Synaptics, TONLY and Qualcomm.
Microsoft said that growing numbers of industry-leading smart home brands are adding Cortana support. However, the real stats paint a different story, with Cortana having less than 250 third-party "skills" in December. Amazon's Alexa, widely viewed as the market leader in home automation, boasts over 25,000.
READ NEXT: Amazon Alexa to launch on Windows 10 PCs this year
While it stressed its commitment to supporting Cortana, Microsoft didn't explain how it will address the issues facing the assistant. Despite an initially strong launch, it's clear consumers aren't engaging with Cortana in the way Microsoft had planned. Microsoft's stated no clear strategy for the assistant's future development and there's rumours it could be overhauled in a future Windows 10 release.
"Regardless of the device or context, our goal is to put Cortana everywhere you need assistance, whether that is on your PC, phone, Xbox, mixed reality headsets, intelligent home speakers, thermostats and even more in the future," said Microsoft. "You'll continue to see Cortana integrated on your favorite devices and services throughout the year to come."
Alongside the new reference designs, Microsoft's also announced Cortana compatibility with several new smart home products. The assistant will function with devices from brands including Honeywell, Ecobee and TP-Link.
However, it remains unclear how many consumers actively use Cortana's smart home integrations. Microsoft faces a perception challenge as it tries to increase adoption. The assistant's CES show floor absence hasn't gone unnoticed and rivals are encroaching on its home turf. Digital assistance as a whole is still emerging though, so Microsoft might be able to reorient Cortana and gain a new audience.
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