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article imageMicrosoft previews the first Cortana-powered Amazon Echo rival

By James Walker     Dec 14, 2016 in Technology
Microsoft has announced a new Amazon Echo rival based on its Cortana digital assistant. As part of an expansion of Cortana's capabilities, Microsoft has partnered with audio company Harman Kardon to create a smart speaker with the assistant built-in.
In a blog post this week, Microsoft explained how digital assistants are an interface "where all the powers" of artificial intelligence combine to create something useful to every individual. To broaden the reach of Cortana, it unveiled the new Cortana Skills Kit and Cortana Devices SDK. These are tools developers can use to integrate Cortana into their devices and services.
The Skills Kit allows bots created with Microsoft's Bot Framework to be integrated into Cortana. Users can then interact with the bot using their voice. Developers can reuse code from skills written for Amazon's Alexa assistant to develop Cortana skills. Partners including Knowmail, Capital One, Expedia and TalkLocal have already built services using the new platform.
Although additional skills expand Cortana's functionality, they won't single-handedly bring the assistant to more users and environments. That's where the Devices SDK steps in, allowing Cortana to be integrated into "smart" Internet of Things devices. Any manufacturer can use the SDK to create a product that lets you talk to Cortana.
The first company confirmed to be building a Cortana-capable device is Harman Kardon. The premium audio brand is preparing to launch a new smart speaker with Cortana built-in during 2017.
In a video released yesterday, the company revealed the Amazon Echo rival to the world. Its design is very similar to the Echo, a minimal cylinder with a pulsing blue light ring at the top. The circular display is used to represent Cortana's personality. The light changes as you say commands and the assistant responds.
Microsoft has been rumoured to be working on a smart speaker for some time. Recently, what many had thought to be an upcoming device was revealed to be a Windows 10 software feature though, casting doubt on Cortana's future in devices.
Today's blog post confirms Microsoft wants to get Cortana into the living room. As with mobile devices, it will rely on third-party companies to produce the hardware. This approach will allow it to concentrate on expanding its cloud intelligence while adding new services to Cortana.
Microsoft said Harman Kardon is the first of many partners who will use Cortana in their products. The company hinted at "exciting work" with connected cars, suggesting it's planning a rival to Apple's CarPlay and Android Auto. Cortana's Device SDK will be compatible with a range of different platforms, including Windows IoT, Linux and Android. The SDKs will be publicly released in early 2017. The first products can be expected in the months afterwards.
"We believe that everyone deserves a personal assistant," said Microsoft. "One to help you cope as you battle to stay on top of everything, from work to your home life. Calendars, communications and commitments. An assistant that is available everywhere you need it, working in concert with the experts you rely on to get things done."
More about Microsoft, harman kardon, amazon echo, Amazon, cortana
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