Credit: Harman Kardon

Microsoft is not necessarily a leader in the smart home these days, trailing Samsung, Apple and Google in platforms and hardware offerings and instead focusing on other core offerings. But as the Amazon Echo and then Google Home voice assistants jumped onto the scene, the tech world speculated about whether Apple and Microsoft would put their respective AI voice assistants – Siri and Cortana – into physical devices, too.

Rumors abound that Apple is about to do just that – but they’ll be last to the table as Microsoft previewed its Cortana-powered wireless speaker on Monday. Ahead of their BUILD developer conference, which starts tomorrow, Microsoft showed off the Invoke, a speaker manufactured by Harman Kardon and enabled by the company’s digital voice assistant.

Invoke does what Google Home & Echo do for the most part – weather reports, news, music, reminders, timers, etc – and the details thus far are fairly underwhelming. The company reported Invoke will offer “deep integration with Microsoft’s suite of knowledge and productivity tools,” making it a potentially interesting tool for home offices or businesses as a scheduling tool. The device will also have integration with Skype, allowing users to make calls via the platform.  It will certainly sound better than the Echo with Harman Kardon audio engineering and design behind the speaker – and that feature alone might drive audiophiles to Invoke over the competition.

Microsoft’s blog does not detail how or if the device will allow for third-party developers to build additional features and functions – something both Echo and Google Home are capitalizing on to add use cases and turn the speakers into sous chefs, personal assistants and smart home controllers.

Harman Kardon’s press release announcing the speaker definitely positions the audio brand to offer a competitive device to other premium smart speakers like Sonos – with a high-powered AI engine inside. The speaker will have seven microphones and advanced ambient noise technology to help Cortana hear you even in loud environments – another area where HK’s contribution could give Invoke an edge over the Echo. Pricing wasn’t given yet but the product should be available via Microsoft stores in the fall.

With the BUILD conference starting tomorrow, we’ll be sure to share updates and details about Invoke and the features it might bring to the home and kitchen.

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