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.