Microsoft Is Slowly Pulling the Plug On the Harman Kardon Invoke

Posted on December 16, 2019 by Mehedi Hassan in Cloud, Hardware, Microsoft with 52 Comments

Microsoft’s first Cortana-powered device, the Harman Kardon Invoke, made its debut back in 2017. The device, first available for $199, failed to gain much traction beyond Microsoft fans, and Microsoft ended up cutting $150 off the original price, bringing it down to only $50 at one point.

If you were one of those people who bought an Invoke, there’s some bad news for you. It seems like Microsoft is slowly pulling the plug on the Harman Kardon Invoke (via MSPU).

Invoke owners in the United States are reporting major issues with the speaker, whereby Cortana is unable to control their smart home devices, or even do simple things like creating reminders or lists. One user also reported that Cortana’s integration on Amazon Alexa via the “Alexa, open Cortana” command doesn’t seem to work either.

Some users are even reporting issues with setting up the Invoke, whereby resetting the device simply prevents you from setting it up again. I have had this problem since 2 weeks ago, rendering my Invoke completely useless. I originally thought the issue was due to the fact that I am in the UK (the Invoke isn’t officially available in the UK) but seems like the same issue is affecting some other users in the US, too.

It’s possible these issues are just temporary problems while Microsoft makes significant changes to Cortana in order to transform the personal assistant into more of a productivity assistant.

The other major Cortana-powered device, the Johnson Controls thermostat, recently replaced Cortana with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, but in the case of the Invoke, Microsoft or Harman Kardon are yet to communicate what changes users should expect.

At the end of the day, people who have already paid for products like the Invoke shouldn’t be affected at all. The lack of communication from Microsoft here is simply unacceptable, and if you were one of those people who spent $199 on an Invoke, your Invoke might soon turn out to be completely useless.

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Comments (53)

53 responses to “Microsoft Is Slowly Pulling the Plug On the Harman Kardon Invoke”

  1. gavinwilliams

    In my county the saying goes.. "pulling the plug on the.." So when i read ".. Off the..." i thought this was a play on words and they were continuing development.

  2. Stoicjim

    Mine is sitting in the original box awaiting the moment I can bring it back to the Microsoft Store to exchange for something else. It's a dream I have.

  3. genecrispr

    I for one am hoping for a MS Groove style trade in or return program. I'll happily trade in my two invokes for enough to maybe buy a Surface GO? or something.

    Two years of service is not a reasonable support timeline for a device like this.

  4. SvenJ

    Unfortunate. I have two of these, but don't really use them to the full capability they had. I still ask the occasional question, play music, for which they are outstanding, and tap her on the head for a random response/fact. All of that still seems to work. Never was all that impressed with the features, even being on the beta program for the thing. The tap on the head thing was quite amusing on Sunday. The initial response was just "Meow". That was odd, so tapped again. She then noted it was national cat herder's day. I've always enjoyed the sense of humor, she, or her handlers, had. My greatest dissapointment was when Groove went away, and she subsequently quit playing music from OneDrive too. Never got into Spotify. A trade-in program would be nice, but remember this is not a MS product. I don't imagine Harmon Kardon is going to offer much.

  5. jupast

    This is like the HP Elite Windows Phone. Even at the time, all you could think was...why bother? Think it was obvious in both cases the situation was on life support.

  6. SenorGravy

    Because I have YEARS of experience with and countless instances (Zune, Windows Phone, Band, the list is too long...) of being abandoned by Microsoft, I only bought the Invoke when it was $79 dollars at Best Buy. Like a typical Microsoft Consumer product, it was better in many ways than the competition, it just needed some work and polish. And like all other products save XBox, it never got either.

    So when I read that Microsoft is abandoning me again, I...really don't care. I'm used to it. The Irony is Microsoft , in the consumer space, wants to make products that it's users adopt and care about, yet lets them wither and die a slow death. And then they kill it off outright because nobody cares about the product! Sorry, Microsoft. I don't care about Cortana and your home assistant speaker. You've taught me not to care.

  7. simont

    This is the downside of consumer smart devices, if the provider decides to stop supporting it, it becomes an expensive brick. It's not just Microsoft, multiple companies have been doing this.

  8. nbplopes

    So the trash can is in near release.

  9. ponsaelius

    Microsoft were never serious about this market. Like most Microsoft consumer efforts it was late, half baked, never marketed, overpriced compared to the alternatives and US only. Of course it was the third party manufacturer that built them but really if Microsoft was serious about competing with Google or Amazon it would have built it's own. It wasn't serious.

    I am in the UK. It never sold here and obviously it didn't support English language regions other than the USA. Obviously the device couldn't cope with working in celsius and having a calendar format that didn't start with months.

  10. Pungkuss

    I hope people are not upset about this. No speakers with Cortana on it was selling. For every dying platform that they support longer than they should there are opportunity costs. Those developers could be put on the new new surface hardware being released next year. For the folks looking for a smart speaker, you already have a bunch of great choices. Suck it up!

  11. Jim Lewis

    Apparently, it was just a temporary over-the-weekend glitch - remember how you go to your bank or credit card website late Saturday evening and get informed not all features of your account will be available as we work on maintenance, etc.??

    My three Invokes are back to functioning pretty normally today. Haven't checked everything, though. I have them scattered around the house - kitchen, bedroom, bathroom (we have a very large, relatively low humidity bathroom even after someone has just taken a shower). I use the Invoke for timers, reminders, alarms, the weather, general information, store hours and directions. I find on general information, Cortana usually does a better job than Google Home or Alexa. Much of Alexa is powered by Bing. I have an Echo Show 2nd Generation that I just got on Amazon's Black Friday sale for $150 and it's a relatively great device. Skyping works great on it and visual access to my Smart Home devices is pretty good. I like being able to visually see who's at my front door via my Ring Video Doorbell in about 5 seconds after I request a view. It's too bad Microsoft cannot make something like the Echo Show - using it with its wide-ranging voice control is a lot better than reaching for your phone, laptop, or tablet. I think with the Echo Show, Amazon is showing the world that visuals, combined with audio, is the way to go in Smart Ambient Assistants. My experience with the Show impresses me on how smart Amazon was to buy Ring.

    Daniel Rubino gets quoted a lot:

    Today, Windows Central’s Daniel Rubino tweeted that Microsoft told him and Zac Bowden at Ignite that the company has no plans on abandoning Cortana support on the Invoke.

    • willc

      In reply to Jim_Lewis:

      If true, that's just delaying the inevitable.

      And Rubino and Bowden are just Microsoft PR mouthpieces, so their "reporting" is basically useless.

    • miamimauler

      In reply to Jim_Lewis:

      Paul comments over on Premium comments that he has been receiving emails about this over a period of weeks and not just the weekend.

      Using Rubino or WC as a Microsoft source is a waste of time. They are the Microsoft Defense Force and will defend their tribe regardless of the facts.

    • Jim Lewis

      BTW, I just received in the last hour an OTA notification that I should go through setup for two of my three Invokes. After reconnecting with Microsoft and Harmon services, they seem to perform much snappier than they ever did before. The third Invoke did not hang (yet) and tell me that I must set it up again but just to be on the same page as with the other two, I set it up also. So, Brad, if your kitchen Invoke is misbehavin', try holding the microphone button in the back down for 5 seconds and you'll be prompted to go through setup again. (although a 2nd Gen Echo Show with named timers visible on a screen, video and audio access in 5 sec to my Ring video front doorbell, and built-in video Skyping that works very well, very responsive (5 MP camera) is my preferred kitchen device now).

  12. Bats

    Well, ..... there goes Brad's "kitchen device."

  13. gregsedwards

    This is interesting news. I have four of these speakers at home and at my office, and this issue is currently affecting one of them. The others are working just fine. And even with that one speaker, I still seem to be able to target it for playback from the Spotify app intermittently. I tried resetting/re-pairing it with my Cortana app, which works fine, but it doesn't fix the Spotify issue. So I assumed it was just something going haywire with that specific speaker. Reading that it may be more of a endemic problem is bittersweet to say the least.

    I've been a bit worried about the prognosis of the Invoke's functionality for a while, but it's been generally pretty solid. Seems like I lost some of the deep Spotify integration a while back, like being able to tell the speaker to save the current track to my "liked" tracks. And my Invokes have always had their share of limitations, including not being able to distinguish between different users in my household, not being able to work together as a group, and of course just the general lack of integrations with popular services. I will say that they still sound the best of all my smart speakers, so I'll probably continue using them for as long as possible - even if as just a speaker in conjunction with another device - although, the lack of an audio in jack makes that use-case a little more complicated. Bluetooth is fine for occasional pairing, but it's too flaky to rely on all the time. It's obviously not how these speakers were meant to be used.

    I think this does raise an interesting point about the dependencies we've come to accept that power these consumer products. When you don't control the entire stack, then you're kind of at the mercy of others. Spotify may work fine today, but the minute they decide to drop support for some legacy API feature, your smart speaker may just suddenly become a very expensive dumb speaker.

    Say what you will about them killing products, but Microsoft is typically pretty good about a gracefully exit strategy. Look at Band...they provided plenty of notice, and if you were still actively using it, then you got a refund. They provided a refund for every eBook I purchased from them. They supported Windows Phone with critical updates for four years after they announced the platform was closing. I'll just hope they continue to do the same for Cortana and for the venerable Invoke - even if Harman Kardon has already forgotten it ever existed.

  14. toukale

    Anyone who actually purchased one of those deserved a kick in the behind. That product had fail written all over it from the get go.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to toukale: Must be nice to be clairvoyant. It certainly had an uphill battle ahead of it, but it was arguably the best sounding AI speaker available at the time. I still think it sounds better than my HomePod. It integrated with Groove, which was actually a fine service, ahead of it's time, unfortunately poorly marketed. The ergonomics are great with the volume dial on the top. MS's lack of follow through and commitment on consumer products/services wasn't as clear as it is these days.

      • Bats

        In reply to SvenJ:

        Best sounding AI speaker available? You must have hearing problems. I have said this over and over again....Microsoft has the POOREST digital ecosystem in the market. It's because of that Windows Phone, Band, RS, Zune, etc.... all failed. Nobody and I mean....NOBODY....wants to develop for Microsoft, because their ecosystem is so poor it's a money loser.

        LOL..."poorly marketed?" NO. Google and Amazon don't even market Echo and Home that much.

  15. cmdrkeene

    Yep, I can't open Cortana from my Alexa anymore.

  16. wolters

    I picked up two of these when they were $50 and they are fine speakers...and for a while, I would supplement my daily routine with Cortana and use the speaker. But I knew the writing was on the wall and I moved over to Google Assistant full time.

    I tried using the Invoke as a Bluetooth speaker on my work would often run into video/audio sync issues and perhaps due to bad Bluetooth drivers on my Dell XPS, it would often freeze my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and sometimes crash my entire system.

  17. Paul Thurrott

    I've received some emails from readers who have been experiencing this over some period of weeks. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised this is happening, giving all the changes to Cortana.

  18. yaddamaster

    I only use mine for Spotify integration. If that quits working I'll be annoyed but not surprised.

    If I can't use bluetooth then I'll be mad. Frankly if Microsoft renders it so that even bluetooth quits working they should issue refunds.

    • bbold

      In reply to yaddamaster:

      agreed! its pathetic. i have nearly ZERO confidence in buying any future MS products, thanks to their shenanigans. why they can't keep these services going is beyond me. Why would they want to continually upset customers by cancelling support or even basic functionality of products we paid our hard earned money for? I've spent about $300 on Invokes and expect them to at least stream Spotify, dangit.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to yaddamaster: Remember, this is not a MS product. It was sold by Harmon Kardon. I don't expect you will get anything out of HK.

      • bbold

        In reply to SvenJ:

        In that case, thanks for the heads up. (It was also sold by Microsoft on their website.) If I do any complaining to the company directly I'll make sure to CC HK on it. What a huge dumpster fire. BB

  19. StevenLayton

    It sucks if you've spent the money on it for those features, but it can't be that surprising.

  20. genecrispr

    I have two of these. I'll have to check them out and take them through the paces. Any chance there was something in the terms of service specifying X years of service life? or uptime? or anything?

  21. kprrok

    I, too, bought one when they were on sale for $50, and it's a great Bluetooth speaker for my phone while I'm on my office. I'll be happy when Cortana is turned off so it doesn't randomly respond when I'm on work calls.

  22. bbold

    I purchased two Invokes (one full price, one for $50 a few short months later) and I use them both for Spotify playback. They're great speakers, and I've loved them thus far. If Spotify playback fails, I'll be promptly setting the invokes on fire along with 3 also useless MS bands and making a YouTube video to air my disgust. (Not that anyone will care about that, either, of course.) Happy Holidays! :D

  23. eric_rasmussen

    Cortana needed to not just be another voice assistant, it needed to literally be the AI from the Halo series. That Microsoft never leveraged that marketing angle blows my mind. If Cortana sounded like Cortana from the game and products that used it had some kind of visual indication that you were talking to the real Cortana, they world have had something unique that resonates with an entire generation.

    My problem with Microsoft has always been their inability to market things correctly and then they cancel things because they believe nobody wants it. Microsoft, nobody wants to dance with their laptop singing a "click click" jingle... But they might want to see how it could actually be useful to them. Also, we didn't need another Alexa. We needed something with a tie into the video games we grew up with. Something with a slightly snarky sense of humor but still every bit as useful as the others.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to Eric_Rasmussen:

      The assistant was voiced by Jen Taylor, same VA as Cortana from the Halo franchise.

    • angusmatheson

      In reply to Eric_Rasmussen:

      I disagree. I think associating your personal assistant with an essentially naked, blue skinned women with gravity defying breasts was a mistake to start with. The is offensive enough that a women is portrayed that way in a video game that people can choose to buy or not buy. But to associate that with something they wanted to put in every PC and phone - devices that would be used by people other than 14 year old boys - was idiotic and chauvinistic. And Microsoft insisted that. Cortana was female and needs the female pronoun “she.” I agree that Cotana wasn’t marketed well. And suspect few, like me, knew the associated and were offended by it. But had Cortana been more successful this could have been a problem. The failure of windows phone and the basic lack of utility of voice activated assistants on PC doomed Cortana. But I still say connecting it to the character in Halo was a mistake.

  24. glenn8878

    My Echo Dot works fine for years. Amazon does a better job with this than Microsoft. Microsoft's primary customer is Enterprise. They have little understanding of consumers.

  25. doctorhoo

    Okay, I made the mistake of buying 4 Invokes. I had two of them set up and I really like them. I love the sound quality (it's better than the Echo Dots and Google Homes that I also have) and I've been pretty happy with them. I use them for listening to the radio (via TuneIn), setting timers, and as my alarm clock. I have also set up a reminder and it showed up in my Windows PC. Really neat! I really like Cortana's personality. I like the first two so much that I bought 2 more from Microsoft's store at $49 each.

    But I made the mistake of waiting too long before setting the other two up. I have been trying since December 2019 to set them up using both my Windows 10 PC and an Android phone. They both connect to the speakers. Everything seems to be going well but it never finishes. Cortana tells me it needs to update the system software/firmware on the speakers and to please wait. Eventually, Cortana tells me that something went wrong and that I should start the setup process over again.

    I keep repeating and the same thing happens. It seems like it is trying to update the software/firmware to the latest version but the server is down or something so it can never finish the set up process.

    Is there any way I can manually update the firmware on the Invokes to the latest? There is a USB port on the Invoke that is supposed to be used for "service". Can this be used to update the firmware?

    Or maybe Microsoft can just put the server back up again so I can set up my remaining two Invokes. I tried emailing Harmon Kardon but I can tell they won't be of much help (they seemed clueless about this).

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