Bringing Cortana to the Kitchen

Posted on October 13, 2016 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 68 Comments


Later this month, Microsoft is hosting an event in NYC where it is widely expected that the company will be announcing a Surface AIO and while I eagerly wait to see what they have behind the curtain for that product to differentiate it from other devices, that’s not what I really want the Surface team to build. There is a new type of computing device that is quickly growing in popularity and it lives in the kitchen, has no screen, and is controlled by your voice.

Amazon cracked open this market with the Echo and ever since I purchased one, I have used it nearly every day. Everything from playing music, setting timers, asking basic questions, grocery lists to setting reminders; I (and my wife too) am surprised at how much we use this thing. And with Google entering this market, it’s about to become a crowded field but the one device I really want is one with Cortana built in.

Microsoft, at nearly every event it hosts, talks about its machine learning and voice dictation capabilities and I’d love to see them bring more of this technology directly to the consumer. The company has a huge cloud service that can translate Wikipedia in less than a second, a voice assistant on the desktop and phone that can understand natural language and the most useful place to put all this technology is in the kitchen.

Bringing Cortana into the kitchen solves many of the issues I have with the Echo; the device works in a silo from all my other gadgets. Sure, there is an awful Amazon Echo app for my phone but what I really want is reminders to sync across everything that I use. Putting Cortana in the kitchen means any data absorbed there will show up on my PC and my phone; Google doesn’t offer this nor does Amazon.

The kitchen PC doesn’t need a screen, nor do I want it to have one. I often cook with my toddler and when she is holding a bottle of olive oil, no surface is safe from overspray or just the general nature at which a toddler carelessly tosses around liquids. My Echo has been knocked over, covered in flour, hit with crayons and it keeps on pumping out music and instructions without any fault. Adding a screen to this setup would be a huge mistake for me and it defeats the purpose of the device anyway.

I could likely build one of these devices too; a small headless PC with a microphone and Windows 10 could get the job done but that’s a messy setup and not optimized for the loud kitchen environment.

Here’s my honest fear about Microsoft bringing Cortana to the kitchen. Microsoft is generally a smart company but their biggest problem is timing. Far too often they are either way too early (tablet PCs) or late to the market (Windows mobile reboot) and if the company does not get this product out the door quickly, it will find itself far behind Amazon and now Google. There are also rumors out there that Apple is looking to enter this space too which further adds to the urgency to get a product out the door before every other competitor is already selling devices in the market.

In the back of my mind, I secretly hope that at the event in NYC on the 26th Microsoft announces a device like this. Unfortunately, there are no rumors of a product like this at the event but Microsoft occasionally can keep a secret (Hololens).

I will admit that I am often pessimistic about Microsoft building new hardware like a watch or a Surface phone as I don’t see the market need for those devices but the kitchen PC makes a lot of sense for how the company views the future of the PC. If Microsoft is going to build a device like this, they need to do it now and not two years after Google releases the first iteration of its kitchen PC.

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  1. 11 | Reply
    Sarge Alpha Member #699 - 3 months ago

    I can't wait to have another Microsoft consumer technology to get me excited and then be dropped by MS. Hello Zune, Windows Phone, Band 2  :-(

    1. -1 | Reply
      wolters Alpha Member #390 - 3 months ago
      In reply to Sarge:

      Feeling your pain as I am embracing a Microsoft/Google/Android/Amazon/Plex life...

  2. 3 | Reply
    bbold Alpha Member #669 - 3 months ago

    According to yourself and Paul, the hardware market for Microsoft may be a dead end. Since they cancelled the Band 3 and delayed any other Surface Pro or Book updates until next year, I feel like they wouldn't release anything like an Echo at all. Too costly and too competitive in the market. We can file this under "Wishful Thinking Devices." Hey, that sounds like a great podcast show topic, what do you think, Brad? :)

    1. 0 | Reply
      Narg Alpha Member #420 - 3 months ago
      In reply to bbold:

      More like too late to the party again, just like Windows Phone and Zune.  A Cortana device will likely fail because of the same issue.  Band is leaving because that market is dead anyway.  Most fitness trackers have seen a steady decline in sales and interest.

  3. 3 | Reply
    JHeredia Alpha Member #433 - 3 months ago

    Great article, and while I wholeheartedly agree with your premise, for this to be a reality, it will have to be designed for cafeterias, not kitchens.  Or maybe desks?  Because Microsoft isn't making consumer hardware anymore, or at least it's bailing on all the consumer hardware it has made, so this is basically impossible in the current focus for them.  If the Band got cancelled, which at least had applications in the Enterprise from a productivity and even security standpoint (if they ended up including RFID and/or integrated it with Windows Hello), this has far less applications to the enterprise.

    Doesn't mean I wouldn't love to see it just like you, but I'm starting to accept the reality of the new MS...when I'm wearing my consumer hat, they're no where in sight.

    1. 0 | Reply
      FreeJAC Alpha Member #1723 - 3 months ago
      In reply to JHeredia:

      Last time I looked MS was still making Xbox, and they have been opening more retail stores, not closing them. Get your head out of the Apple store and look around, they are just down the hall! ;)

    2. 0 | Reply
      JHeredia Alpha Member #433 - 3 months ago
      In reply to FreeJAC:

      Fair enough, Xbox is consumer, and seems to be chugging right along.  The retail stores - I have absoloutely no idea what's to think about with them...are they really consumer focused?  Sure, there's an Xbox corner, and a VR corner to test out, but if MS keeps bailing on consumer products...can we really call the store a push into the consumer market?

      Oh, and for the record, I have literally NEVER set a foot into an Apple store. :)  I'm 100% MS in everything I own and use...though I currently also have a Garmin on my wrist as I try to find a suitible replacement for the Band.

    3. 0 | Reply
      FreeJAC Alpha Member #1723 - 3 months ago
      In reply to JHeredia:

      Absolutely they are. There are classes at the back of the store, there are signature PCs a plenty to choose from. Consumers get free anti-virus removal and adhoc training. They host might night launches of big AAA game titles. Ear buds, mice, keyboards. Xbox controller design lab station. Stores are always full. Or at least mine is. During the big W10 upgrade push. IF you brought your PC in to get it upgraded for free and if they couldn't do it, they would give you a new W10 Dell laptop for free. Those stores are 100% consumer focused.

      I've been to an Apple store once. Once to buy an iPod Touch to replace my iPod Mini.

    4. 0 | Reply
      glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 3 months ago
      In reply to FreeJAC:

      We were talking about Cortana. None of that helps if the consumer doesn't use Cortana. Selling equipment by itself doesn't mean much to consumers who are increasingly using their smartphones to do their computing. PCs are less consumer friendly. They are useful for work and school. I don't get why someone needs to buy an Xbox to run Cortana, which many can't since Kinect is no longer included with most bundles. In trying to make the case for the consumer, it isn't helpful if their products are still PC centric that for the most part lacks a microphone.

  4. 2 | Reply
    Clarkb Alpha Member #2339 - 3 months ago

    Unfortunately, Brad, you could not build a small headless PC to replicate Echo, you can't even put a full blown PC/laptop in your kitchen to replicate Echo.  Today, Cortana is a generalized assistant vs an optimized home assistant. 

    Yes, I know a Windows 10 PC, or god forbid phone, can respond to “Hey Cortana”, and I do use this for specific tasks, but it in no way comes close to the optimization Amazon has done with Alexa for a home/kitchen assistant.  Here’s a few examples: 

    Shopping Lists: Alexa can add things to your Amazon/Echo shopping list (yes, I’d prefer this be added to either EverNote or OneNote, whichever I choose) , just try saying “Hey Cortana, add peanut butter to shopping list”.

    Timers: You can set multiple timers with Alexa, very typical when you’re cooking a meal, and when you ask how much time is left she intelligently asks “do you mean the 10 minute timer or the 20 minute timer?” (ideally, you could name each timer with something like “Carrots” and “Chicken” but that will come).  With Cortana you can only set one timer.

    Music:  With Cortana you can say “play Bruce Springsteen” and she will play from Groove Music, but if you ask her to “play NPR radio” or "play WLW radio" she doesn’t know what to do.  You can ask Alexa and she understands if/where that is available whether, it’s on Prime music, TuneIn Radio, iHeart, etc.

    To be fair, Amazon's achilles heal is that for most people "the rest of their lives" are stored in or managed by services from Apple, Google and Microsoft (mail, contacts, calendars, etc) and we want one assistant to be able to manage all of our needs, so this give Apple/Google/Microsoft the opportunity to surpass Amazon's early lead here.

    I fear that when Microsoft announces the Surface AIO they will tout it as "the perfect PC for the kitchen/family" and demonstrate a couple of Cortana features, which will falsely lead consumers to believe it can replace/compete with Echo. 

    I too hope Microsoft delivers a range of Cortana home appliances, from pucks/hubs to full blown AIO's, but I *hope* they optimize the experience, otherwise they’re just going to annoy consumers, again.




    1. 0 | Reply
      DWAnderson Alpha Member #730 - 3 months ago
      In reply to Clarkb:

      Agree. It would be nice if Amazon decided it made sense for their products to work well with others'. Before MS adopted the platform independence religion, I would have picked Amazon as the best bet to succeed because they are generally platform agnostic.

    2. 0 | Reply
      glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 3 months ago
      In reply to Clarkb:

      If you own Echo, you're likely to have a Prime subscription so every thing you need to do is right there. That's why Echo is so powerful and profitable for Amazon. Their services are designed to be integrated. Microsoft failed with its services. It needs to incorporate everyone else's services and it is unable to. Microsoft is mostly a platform company. This model is in the past. Amazon uses whatever is available like Android and builds its services on top of it. This works out better for them. Microsoft will always be behind because Cortana lacks a purpose. Echo has a specific purpose to serve up Amazon's services.

      Microsoft should go back to the drawing board and design Cortana to serve Microsoft's own products. Xbox games, Office, Groove, Photos, Video, Bing, etc. Anything beyond that is a pipe dream.

    3. 0 | Reply
      maethorechannen Alpha Member #377 - 3 months ago
      In reply to Clarkb:

      The stupid thing is that if you wanted to create your own echo with a headless pc (or raspberry pi) you can, but with Alexa Voice Services instead of Cortana

      You would think it would be possible to do the same with Cortana and Window IoT.

  5. 2 | Reply
    Bart Alpha Member #117 - 3 months ago

    Yes, would love such a device. Together with Wunderlist integration etc.

    1. 3 | Reply
      bbold Alpha Member #669 - 3 months ago
      In reply to Bart:

      And OneNote Integration, obviously.

    2. 0 | Reply
      edboyhan Alpha Member #492 - 3 months ago
      In reply to bbold: bart;
      If you had an echo, it can connect with IFTTT which has recipes for both Wunderlist, and OneNote (:grin)


  6. 1 | Reply
    xapache Alpha Member #1506 - 3 months ago

    Your other fear should be that, if Microsoft actually does announce this device and sells it that it doesn't quickly abandon it or worse - not advertise it and wonder why it isn't selling.  Which then results in it canceling it to dash all of our hopes and dreams...  Zune...Band....etc.

  7. 1 | Reply
    richfrantz Alpha Member #2341 - 3 months ago

    I think their cloud/machine learning projects would have made them MORE interested in the consumer space. They should be hungry for data, that means bodies and that means consumers.

    So I agree, they should build one of these.

  8. 1 | Reply
    ken_loewen Alpha Member #141 - 3 months ago

    Agreed! Let's start a list of must-have apps. Starting with kitchen-related use cases:

    Cortana, put eggs on my shopping list. Response: I've added eggs to your shopping list.

    Cortana, print my shopping list. Response: Shall I print your shopping list on the HP printer (I see wirelessly connected to the same wifi network)? Note: this use case is important because my wife currently manages her shopping list on paper in a page-a-day organizer.


    1. 2 | Reply
      FreeJAC Alpha Member #1723 - 3 months ago
      In reply to ken_loewen:

      Time to introduce your wife to a smartphone.

  9. 0 | Reply
    Vuppe Alpha Member #1076 - 3 months ago

    Microsoft adding more consumer hardware to its porfolio? That'll work out. /s

  10. 0 | Reply
    chrisrut Alpha Member #193 - 3 months ago

    Oh yeah - nice one Paul! Well seen.

    I'm an amateur cook - and would love to have hands free access to my info-streams while mixing up a mess of meatloaf.

    But wouldn't it be cool if you could tell it (literally) to stream stuff to a screen somewhere - (Dude, SHOW me that recipe again) or to a holo-lens-generated virtual screen...(super light, smudge-free lenses, and an all day battery). Why the ad copy almost writes itself... :-)

     Sci fi baby! That's where Microsoft should be at...Makin' the dreams real.

  11. 0 | Reply
    lhavenst - 3 months ago

    You say Kitchen and I say Shop/Garage PC.    Simular issues but having a thing that can do searches and is hands free, plus able to deal with noise.   

    The only difference would be it would be nice to have the option to hang a screen on it.  That way it could display plans or manuals.  But otherwise hands free is a need for sure.

    I just bought an Upboard PC with the idea of using it in the shop stuck to the back of a cheap LCD monitor.  Sadly that requires a keyboard/touchpad.    I also have an Amazon Dot plugged into the old stereo I have in the shop.   That works great as I can stream music or Audible books while I am working and the timer is handy for me to keep track of dinner time (time to take breaks).  

  12. 0 | Reply
    ponsaelius Alpha Member #1328 - 3 months ago

    It would be bizarre for a business and enterprise company to re-engage with consumers in the home. The consumer space in mobile, tv and pretty much everything except Xbox has disappeared as a focus for Microsoft under Nadella.

    However Microsoft often surprise. The main issue is that they will just as easily drop it if it fails to to take off. 

  13. 0 | Reply
    dhallman Alpha Member #560 - 3 months ago

    I am not so sure a screen is a bad idea. A system like this should integrate with smart thermostats, security like wifi cameras or baby monitors. And being able to see your shopping list and swipe off items or even watch a video while cooking (entertainment or instruction). But there should be screenless option for additional rooms (wireless screen would be nice for mounting options) and integration with xBox One for the living room. Oh, and a digital mirror add-on for the mater bathroom.

  14. 0 | Reply
    edboyhan Alpha Member #492 - 3 months ago

    Well, I don't have any kids, and my insider fast ring laptop (Surface Pro 1) is in the kitchen, where I use it while waiting for the microwave to do its thing (:grin). The kitchen also has an Amazon Tap which doesn't get used much -- I take it with me when I travel.

    The bedroom has one of the very first Echos (it's almost 2 years old). I use it a lot -- I just used it to sign up for Amazon's Music Unlimited service -- I'm listening to it as I write this (50's oldies). I also use skills to connect with IFTTT, and all my Insteon home automation devices.

    Upstairs I have an Amazon DOT paired with a Bose Soundlink Color -- it works great.

    IMO the Home Automation train has already left the station as far as MS is concerned (I only use Cortana for file & app searches, and hardly ever via voice).

    I agree with you about MS's crummy timing -- they always seem to miss key selling periods (back to school; end of year holidays). It has always been thus -- even back when I worked for them (at the beginning of the millenium).

    BTW what smartphone do you use with the Alexa app? I use just fine from my laptops using MS Edge (W10 release preview ring), but when I attempt to use that url from Edge on my Lumia 950XL (also release preview), I get a message saying that that url is not compatible with the browser!!??.

  15. 0 | Reply
    gregsedwards Alpha Member #1910 - 3 months ago

    Brad, I'd love to see something like this announced at the fall show in NYC. I've been waiting to up my home automation game for some time now, and I've sort of been waiting on Microsoft to lay out their strategy in this space before I get too invested. I think there are quite a few ways they could go here...Xbox, PC, phone...obviously all connected to Cortana and the Microsoft Cloud. If they do decide to launch a kitchen device, I hope it looks something like the Cortana button I saw advertised on Amazon a while back. Regardless, they still have yet to answer the fundamental shortcoming of their current strategy...what happens when I have half a dozen different voice-enabled devices listening, and I say "Hey Cortana?"

  16. 0 | Reply
    glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 3 months ago

    I suggest Microsoft should offer Windows and Cortana and any other technologies for free to Amazon or any other upstart to build their services. Just be the platform and enterprise company. Unfortunately, it can't offer anything pared down to work best in low cost devices. It's just too buggy and complex. 

  17. 0 | Reply
    Ryster Alpha Member #97 - 3 months ago

    Microsoft can't even muster the competence to launch Cortana on Android anywhere other than the US yet, so I don't see something like this as likely if they want it to have more than limited US-only appeal.

  18. 0 | Reply
    erson Alpha Member #507 - 3 months ago

    They should concentrate on bringing Cortana to more than 8 languages and 13 regions.

  19. 0 | Reply
    maethorechannen Alpha Member #377 - 3 months ago

    They could just try to piggyback off the Echo - "Alexa, ask Cortana to...". They could even have it respond with Cortana's voice.


  20. 0 | Reply
    AliMaggs Alpha Member #1317 - 3 months ago

    I'm totally with you, and I totally want this device. I'm in the UK, where the Echo has just been released, and I love it but, like you, I keep wishing it was Cortana so it would sync across every other device I use.

    My issue is that if they came out with a Cortana device, I'd be likely to wait a version or two just to see if they're serious about it or if it'll be another Band. I'm really starting to feel burnt by Microsoft releasing a product or service and not getting fully behind it with updating it, or advertising it, and then it eventually dies.

  21. 0 | Reply
    D35011 Alpha Member #1858 - 3 months ago

    I really like my Amazon Echo, but I'd love something more integrated into the MS ecosystem.  If they are working on a Cortana appliance, I hope they make it actually LOOK like Cortana.  Echo/Siri don't have a human-looking brand, but Cortana does.  Could be a surprisingly effective psychological differentiator.

    1. 0 | Reply
      Chris_Kez Alpha Member #320 - 3 months ago
      In reply to D35011:

      Yes, this is the new family-friendly face of Microsoft's home computing presence:


  22. 0 | Reply
    gsmith-plm Alpha Member #1599 - 3 months ago

    I can see no advantage in MS building another Echo clone as Google as doing - that just makes them the follower in this just as they have been a follower in so many other things this decade.  What they have to do is leapfrog the others and they better do it fast because the competiton is already heading in that direction.

    What I am speaking of is a ruggedized tablet that can be mounted on a wall in the kitchen, shop, whatever that does the same thing the Echo does now but with web pages and videos and note taking.  IOW a real StarTrek device.  If anyone thinks that Apple and Google and Amazon aren't already well into development, then they have completely missed the boat.

  23. 0 | Reply
    StevenLayton Alpha Member #801 - 3 months ago

    Maybe they could name such a device the "Kitchen Surface"?

  24. 0 | Reply
    Care Alpha Member #464 - 3 months ago

    I would appreciate a screen in the kitchen, too--for recipes--but I'd like it to fold out of the way under a cupboard.

    1. 0 | Reply
      richfrantz Alpha Member #2341 - 3 months ago
      In reply to Care: integrate with hololens and you can have your recipe float around the stovetop. lol


  25. 0 | Reply
    mortarm - 3 months ago

    >...Apple is looking to enter this space 

    Given Siri's poor performance, I don't see that as a problem.

  26. 0 | Reply
    dcdevito Alpha Member #220 - 3 months ago

    If Microsoft wants a consuer facing brand again they need this, but the issue is - what else will it do for consumers who don't use Microsoft's products or services otherwise? Gonna be a hard sell if it's going to try to upsell on other services

  27. 0 | Reply
    Michael Alpha Member #361 - 3 months ago

    Love the Corlexa graphic.

  28. 0 | Reply
    skborders Alpha Member #1309 - 3 months ago

    Even if they did release something, the tech media would declare it a failure and no one would buy it. It wouldn't matter how good it was.


    On a side not, how come some alpha members have a number and others do not?

  29. 0 | Reply
    glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 3 months ago

    I don't get why you think this should be an issue. Cortana doesn't belong in the kitchen because they don't have a presense there. Cortana actually belongs in the Living Room, Desktop, and Tablets / Laptops. You might say they are already there, but the truth is most people don't use it. Cortana isn't featured on Xbox and currently doesn't sell an Living Room PC despite costs of entry is much lower than ever before. It doesn't sell a low cost entertainment dongle. It doesn't sell a webcam / kinect / microphone combination for living rooms, desktops, and laptops. Xbox doesn't have Kinect as standard equipment.  Thus, Cortana won't make any headway on its existing equipment. Why would people want to buy a Cortana specific hardware?

    Microsoft long ago given up on Media Center, which should be the entry level living room media application. It gave up on Kinect so people can't use voice commands to control Windows and Xbox.

    Amazon Echo deserves kudos for entering the market especially in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom. This market is done. Microsoft can pick up the pieces in the PC market before customers abandon it further.

  30. 0 | Reply
    Narg Alpha Member #420 - 3 months ago

    Since Apple was first in the digital assistant arena with Siri, I'm also suprized Apple doesn't have a similar device.  Once I switch to Android, which seems inevitable at some point in the futures, I'm probably going to dump Alexa and go with Google Home instead.  I'd wager that Google will get the full interaction between devices and services thing working best before anyone else does.  "Hey Google, do this with that" where both "this" and "that" are arbitrary with intent or function and device or software...