Earlier this year, Microsoft unveiled a Cortana-enabled smart speaker that it developed in partnership with Samsung-owned Harman Kardon, according to The Verge. And an early Microsoft Store listing, pricing the speaker at $199, indicates it may be available for purchase soon.
In addition to using Cortana’s high-performing natural-language recognition, the device, dubbed Invoke, is embedded with Microsoft’s full suite of productivity tools. With the new product, Microsoft is vying to grab a foothold of the rapidly growing smart speaker market, which is expected to grow 75% by 2020 to more than 7 billion consumer devices, up from 4 billion in 2017.
While consumers have been getting acclimated to using voice assistants, Microsoft has been forming partnerships to expand Cortana's reach. For example, in May, Microsoft announced a partnership with HP to begin developing a separate Cortana-based speaker. In 2017, 36 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant at least once a month, doubling last year’s figure, reports eMarketer.
But it might be too little too late for Microsoft as it faces a steep uphill battle in the smart speaker market.
Several tech companies are already battling to establish themselves and gain mindshare in the nascent space. When the Invoke speaker hits the market, it will face stiff competition from established players like Amazon and Google, as well as from Apple's and Samsung's upcoming devices.
Despite solid user growth, Cortana still pales in comparison to competing voice assistants. Cortana’s US monthly active users (MAU) grew 350% between May 2016 and May 2017, reaching 700,000 users, up from 200,000 the year prior. But, that’s still low compared with Alexa’s 2.6 million MAU and Siri’s 41 million MAU.
Microsoft’s lack of substantial device market share means the company might be better served through partnerships with established players, like Amazon.An agreement reached in August will allow Alexa and Cortana to communicate with each other across a range of tasks. This can enhance the appeal of Cortana, as each assistant satisfies a niche that can work to complement the other, improving the overall user experience. Cortana will be able to access Alexa’s 25,000 skills, complete shopping orders through Amazon, and use Alexa to control smart home devices.
Advancements in a bevy of industries are helping intelligent digital voice assistants like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa become more sophisticated and useful pieces of technology.
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are allowing them to accurately understand more information, while upgrades to mobile networks are facilitating quick transfers of data to robust clouds, enabling fast response times. In addition, the swell of internet connected devices like smart thermostats and speakers is giving voice assistants more utility in a connected consumer's life.
However, there are still numerous barriers that need to be overcome before this product platform will see mass adoption, as both technological challenges and societal hurdles persist.
Jessica Smith, research analyst for BI Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, has compiled a detailed report on the voice assistant landscape that:
Identifies the major changes in technology and user behavior that have created the voice assistant market that exists today.
Presents the major players in today's market and discusses their major weaknesses and strengths.
Explores the impact this nascent market poses to other key digital industries.
Identifies the major hurdles that need to be overcome before intelligent voice assistants will see mass adoption.
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