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Microsoft Opens Cortana To OEM Kit, Hints At Amazon Echo Rival

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Expect to see Microsoft’s digital assistant appearing in new hardware soon with launch of developer and OEM tools

Microsoft continues its product portfolio shakeup with the news that its digital assistant Cortana, will shortly be able to be included in other OEM equipment.

To achieve this Microsoft launched a new Cortana Skills Kit and Cortana Devices SDK (software development kit) to help developers incorporate Cortana into their products.

And at the same time Microsoft hinted at a rival to Amazon’s Echo speaker in a video showing a Harman Kardon built speaker powered by Cortana.

amazon-echoCortana SDK

After Microsoft’s retreat from the smartphone market, where its digital assistant featured heavily within the now defunct Windows Phone operating system, the software giant has been searching for new routes to market for Cortana.

It incorporated Cortana into its Xbox gaming system and the Windows 10 operating system for example, but now wants other hardware makers to be able to utilise the technology.

“We believe that everyone deserves a personal assistant,” blogged the Windows App Team. “We’re at the beginning of a technological revolution in artificial intelligence. The personal digital assistant is the interface where all the powers of that intelligence can become an extension of each one of us.”

“Today we are inviting you to join us in this vision for Cortana with the announcement of the Cortana Skills Kit and Cortana Devices SDK,” said Microsoft. “The Cortana Skills Kit is designed to help developers reach the growing audience of 145 million Cortana users, helping users get things done while driving discovery and engagement across platforms: Windows, Android, iOS, Xbox and new Cortana-powered devices.”

“The Cortana Devices SDK will allow OEMs and ODMs to create a new generation of smart, personal devices – on no screen or the big screen, in homes and on wheels,” it said.

The Cortana Skills Kit is to “help developers utilise bots created with the Microsoft Bot Framework and publish them to Cortana as a new skill, to integrate their web services as skills and to repurpose code from their existing Alexa skills to create Cortana skills.”

The Cortana Devices SDK on the other hand makes Cortana available to all OEMs and ODMs to build smarter devices on all platforms.

The Cortana Devices SDK is currently in private preview and will be available next year.

Amazon Echo Rival

Meanwhile Microsoft gave a clear example of how it expects to see Cortana incorporated into other manufacturer’s hardware, with the release of a video from audio specialists Harman Kardon.

The video shows a cylindrical product with a blue pulsating light, with a Cortana voiceover. If this device hits the market, it will present a direct challenge to Amazon’s Echo speaker, as well as Google’s Home speaker.

The Amazon Echo speaker launched in the UK earlier this year and it uses the Alexa virtual assistant.

There are two versions of the Echo in Britain; one main speaker priced at £149.99 and a smaller speaker called the Dot which will cost £49.99 and be used as a means to connect other IoT devices in different rooms.

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