Microsoft Opens Cortana Virtual Assistant to Third-Party Hardware Makers

Microsoft has announced it is making its Cortana voice assistant AI available to third-party device makers, with third-party developers also set to get access to the platform for integrating into their services on Cortana-powered devices.

The company's approach is based on two software kits currently available for preview: A Skills Kit that allows developers to build apps that can be called up and controlled via Cortana using voice commands, and a Cortana Devices SDK, which enables third-party hardware manufacturers to bake in the voice-activated AI to new devices.


Premium audio company Harman Kardon is set to become one of the first device makers to make use of the SDK in a new wireless speaker, set to debut early next year. In a short video released by Microsoft, the speaker looks vaguely similar to an Amazon Echo, but appears to feature a display at the top that lights up when Cortana is summoned.

Given its long history of working with OEMs, Microsoft's decision to license out its Cortana AI to third party device makers could prove an adroit move in a smart speaker space currently dominated by Google and Amazon, both of which have released own-branded devices.

Just last week, Microsoft unveiled plans to compete with smart devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo by developing a HomeHub feature for Windows 10 PCs that enables Cortana to be summoned from the lock screen and provide useful information on request. The Redmond-based company is also planning to enable Cortana integration with fridges, toasters, thermostats, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices, made possible by way of a Windows 10 Creators Update, due to land in March 2017.

Apple's interest in bringing a Siri-integrated smart speaker to market has been rumored since May. The company is said to be developing a product that would include a speaker and microphone that could be used for features like listening to music, getting news headlines, and more, but further details have so far been thin on the ground.

Despite the lack of recent rumors, a report last month suggested that Amazon is already readying its response to Apple's entry into the market. Amazon's next iteration of the Echo speaker is said to be a premium model that includes a large touchscreen, marking a major departure from the tall, cylindrical design of the Echo currently on sale.

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Top Rated Comments

Sirious Avatar
99 months ago
I can't wait to talk to my underpowered Siri speaker. Hope it's thin enough :p
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Thunderhawks Avatar
99 months ago
Another field where Apple is snoozing.

"Siri is a bag of hurt"

They used to come in after everybody and blow us away with their solution.

Hasn't happened in a long, long time.

Oh the good old days.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Naraxus Avatar
99 months ago
It's not even that, I turned it off on my phone and Mac. To me it doesn't exist. We instead use the Echo Dot which works brilliantly with power sockets, lights and central heating. Next year it'll also handle my Sonos system.
Echo & Google Now blow away Siri in pretty much every category
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Naraxus Avatar
99 months ago
Apple once again getting left in the dust....
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
andyyau Avatar
99 months ago
Cortana is annoying. When you press start button and type something to search for a program, it will go to web and find something for you. I disable it for all my Windows 10 machines.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Chupa Chupa Avatar
99 months ago
The answer is that you don't need this if you always have your mobile in your pocket like I do (unfortunately). We have learned to live in a world where we always keep our phones close to us.

I don't use voice commands often because they are limited. I can only imagine talking to these giant voice boxes is just as frustrating. It's yet another gadget to find a plug socket for.

I guarantee that these products will be at the back of most people's entertainment cabinets collecting dust this time next year.

For me it will be about who can introduce Viv first. For some reason, I don't think it will be Apple. We might get an upgraded Siri in 2018....

Buy a Sonos Play 1 and enjoy the sound quality of your music through these in the meantime. You can control the music from your lock screen on your iPhone. Voice command software is still too primitive.

P.S They are hardly 'inexpensive' for most people!
1. As I noted in another post here "Hey Siri" doesn't work with your phone in your pocket. I know I've tried. Also as noted, not everyone has their phone attached to their hip when at home. I for one do not. In fact when I'm home I'm regularly using "Find my iPhone" to figure out where I left it.

2. If I have to pull my phone out to ask Siri to turn on the lights or turn down the thermostat I might as well just flip the switch myself. It totally negates the whole point of hands-free voice automation. The Dot is not about music. It's speaker is lousy for that. The Dot is about home automation. You are thinking maybe of the Echo or Tap which are meant to play music and are considerably more expensive than the Dot.

3. Voice commands are limited but like any language you learn how to talk the way it can understand. I can say "Hey Siri, turn the bedroom lights to 50" and she understands to turn the lights to 50%. Alexa is a lot better with "normal language" than Siri. That and Apple not having a stand-alone voice command speaker are my two big beefs here, and why Amazon will continue to win here.

4. Most people can afford a $39-49 box if they have a $600-1000 smartphone. Otherwise there wouldn't be a market for them. Amazon can't make money on these -- actually probably loses money on the Dot -- if it doesn't make it up in volume. The profit margin on these is negligible if at all. It's just a hook into Amazon the same way a razor stick is to blades.
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Hey Siri, wake the f up!
I think you meant to say Tim Cook... :D
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)