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Microsoft Opens Cortana Virtual Assistant to Third-Party Hardware Makers
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.