Harman Kardon and Cortana Don’t Have an Exclusive Relationship

Posted on September 1, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Smart Home, Windows 10 with 27 Comments

Harman Kardon and Cortana Don't Have an Exclusive Relationship

Disappointingly, but not all that surprisingly, Harman Kardon isn’t just sticking with Cortana when it comes to smart speakers. This week, the firm announced that it will also offer smart speakers based on Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa too.

Well, so much for that.

Harman Kardon’s Cortana-based smart speaker, the Invoke, generated a lot of buzz in the Windows community when it was teased in late 2016 and then finally formally announced in May 2017. But as I noted in Cortanagate: Round and Round We Go, Microsoft just can’t seem to stop punching itself in its face, in this case by having the murkiest and slowest imaginable strategy for getting its digital personal assistant out to devices.

Microsoft finally discussed its Cortana strategy with me in January—they’re playing a long game, basically—but with the months rolling by, the Invoke never shipping, and more and more Alexa- and Google Assistant-powered smart speakers being announced, especially this week at IFA, hopes for a Cortana success get dimmer by the day. And it doesn’t help that Microsoft just relegated Cortana to also-ran status by making it just another Alexa skill.

So this news shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Harmon Kardon, the only company that has actually announced a Cortana-based smart speaker so far, is also releasing smart speakers based on successful personal digital assistants. In this case, the two most successful, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

They are:

Harman Kardon Allure. The Allure is powered by Amazon Alexa and features 360-degree Harman Kardon sound. It features a modern and transparent design, far-field voice recognition, and ambient lighting, and will be available in “winter 2017” for $250.

JBL LINK series. This series of speakers by Harmon Kardon’s JBL brand combines JBL’s Signature Sound with the Google Assistant. There are three models, the LINK 10 ($150), LINK 20 ($200), and LINK 300 ($250). Each offers Chromecast technology with multi-room audio support, HD audio streaming, and Bluetooth. The LINK 10 and 20 are both portable and battery powered, and waterproof.

Depressing. Yeah. But I guess I’m getting used to this kind of thing.


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Comments (27)

27 responses to “Harman Kardon and Cortana Don’t Have an Exclusive Relationship”

  1. toukale

    Here is the honest truth with Microsoft that most fans do not want to admit. Any facing consumer mobile product is going to be niche at best. They don't have a mobile platform like Google and Apple to use as a launching pad and it will continue to hurt them until the current environment and landscape changes. The bad thing for Microsoft, I don't see a change like that happening anytime soon.

    Microsoft needs to embrace Apple and realized that Google is their true competitor, not Apple. Apple's business model guarantees that while they may compete in the same market, they are not competing for all the same consumers. Google is the one company that wants to replace Microsoft entirely. Their agenda and business model mimics Microsoft minus the "Free vs Cash." thing. Google is the one they need to worry about, not Apple.

    • Ravi Tx

      In reply to toukale:

      Amazon also doesn't have mobile presence. still they are very successful with Alexa. This is just Microsoft's fault that they will be very late to market with probably inferior product.

      • toukale

        In reply to Ravi Tx:Alexa is successful because of prime and amazon sells stuffs. Research have shown while Amazon have moved around 10-15 millions Alexa speakers their usage are very low in fact. I am not in a prime household (wife does 90% of the shopping) but I did order and tried it. I returned it after a few weeks since we barely used it outside of playing music through it. I am sure a prime household would use it more to order stuff from Amazon. So I do not see what Microsoft Cortana can offer as hook like Amazon can with shopping, and Google with search.

        • SvenJ

          In reply to toukale: That's your experience. Mine is just mine but is totally different. I have 6 of these things, Dots and 1 Tap. I haven't ordered a single thing from Amazon with them and rarely stream music. They are a killer home Automation interface, which admittedly does require other investment. They also do make great kitchen timers, list adders, reminder boxes, and that sort of thing. All stuff that phone based AI is also good at, but I am one that doesn't have my phone glued to me. It often is inconvenient to set or receive one of those features. At $35 a whack (sales abound) the Dots are where we use them. A drawback is that a reminder or timer only alarms on the device it was set on, but Amazon has been very proactive on feature requests. This is a consistent one.
          I don't know what others do with theirs, but the Echo (Dot) really fit my needs well. It is a handsfree audio universal remote in my house.

          • maethorechannen

            In reply to SvenJ:

             A drawback is that a reminder or timer only alarms on the device it was set on

            I'm hoping that the new Alexa Groups feature gets extended to timers soon. Being able to play music/TuneIn on multiple devices at once is nice, but setting a timer in the kitchen and getting the alarm all over the house would be awesome.

        • TheOneX

          In reply to toukale:

          Ordering stuff through Alexa should never be the reason you buy it. She is useful for other things, such as the music and audiobooks which I like a lot. At minimum being a fancy music player with voice controls is worth it in my opinion. She can do more though, it is just a matter of training yourself to use it. Once you get past that initial teaching yourself to use something you aren't used to using you'll find it very useful. The only problem with Alexa is that Cortana is much better at that stuff than Alexa is so I tend to use Cortana for the other stuff.

    • VancouverNinja

      In reply to toukale:

      Way to early to call anything in this space. Check back in a few years.

      • toukale

        In reply to VancouverNinja:

        What evidence can we point at right now that we can pin our hopes on might help change the situation in 2-3 years? I can't find any, if anything I see a ton of evidence of it getting worst.

  2. maethorechannen

    The first thing that came to my mind when I heard about Cortana on Alexa was that the Harman Kardon speaker will be an Alexa device when it launches. I even wonder if the agreement was at least partly done to let HK save face.

  3. SvenJ

    Tippecanoe and Bixby too.

  4. Angusmatheson

    the last great OS platform wars were for the mobile OS - and unlike the last two (GUI, and command line) Microsoft Microsoft lost (to Android and iOS). I believe the next great platform will be natural language - it will be ubiquitous (watch, home appliance etc), focus on information, and be without abstraction. Apple saw this first with the purchase of Siri - but fumbled - and lost their early lead. Cortana is not great - but it seems to me that neither are any of the others - Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, and Bixby (which I haven't used, or even read a review of, so am guessing it is at the level of the others). With its investment in Bing, Microsoft is positioned to do well with Cortana or to power other natural language searches. But there are other important parts too - the natural language integration, being ubiquitous, people being comfortable using it. I think Cortana is at a Windows phone 7 moment. It is a little behind the pack with a product that is basically equivalent. The hard question is where to go from here? Cut off other's access to Bing to use that advantage? Try to make Azure the cloud that ties everything together for Apple (given the other big cloud players Google and Amizon are competes which is dangerous as Apple makes its own data centers). Tie into Alexa to be subservient but to get in more locations? Give up because the platform you are on Windows 10 will never be very large? Having lost mobile, but won the previous to OS platform wars, can they win the natural language platform wars? *several including Microsoft (with hololens) and Facebook (with purchase of oculus Rift) seem to have suggested that the next (or at least a future) platform OS will be virtual reality (or augmented reality) based. I cannot deny that is coming. Maybe we will see 2 platform OS wars happen at the same time, or in quick succession. We have always been on the edge of VR, and still feel we are. VR/AR is not yet easy to use, seamless, and non-nausea inducing. And it seems to me that by showing its hand early with hololense (like Apple did with Siri) Microsoft has lost it's advantage here as well. I think focusing of VR/AR and abandoning natural language means giving up on the present but remaining in the fight for the future. Which might be a good Idea. But dangeous becuase users of that VR/Ar immersed future will expect a natural language interface which they had grown accustomed talking to and integrating with their computing world. And with ARkit, ARcore, HTC Vive are Facebook and Microsoft even ahead anymore?* I think Cortana is key to staying relevant in the long game, the question is can Cortana stay relevant?

    • Roger Ramjet

      In reply to Angusmatheson:
      1. They cannot give up on mobile. There has never been a "winner" in the next platform that did not have a good share of the last one. Its the jumping off point. WM/WP is dead, there is no new Windows solution that is feasible. Therefore, they must accept that Google has won with Android, and this will be the platform that goes into the future. So, Microsoft must go to Android and see what share they can take. Use the inflection points, regulatory and otherwise. This is the same as what Google did on Windows before mobile. (I think for now they are doing as much as they can in this area. When EU rules Google a monopoly we will see truly whether this is a strategic area they have focused on, and if they executed well).
      2. Cortana is currently badly lagging. However, they can still salvage this "natural language platform" that you describe if they do two things:
      3. Use their enterprise dominance to find those spaces where enterprises will use the natural language to serve or interact with customers. I truly thought(think) they are going there when they teased that thermostat. This can be a great advantage for them if they can find those enterprise niches that would be early adopters of this tech because otherwise, it isn't moving very fast in the direct to consumer channel. So, they can potentially leapfrog, and use that to get out front since such enterprise niches will enable millions and millions of consumers to essentially get free trials.
      4. They need to find whatever makes them slow in general, or makes them unable/unwilling to fast follow ideas that are winning in the marketplace, and cut it out. Twice now, in mobile and AI assistants, Google has jumped them with essentially that issue alone. I can see how a very big company will be slow to try iffy ideas (after all the universe of those things is almost limitless), but once it's succeeding and you have the tech and resources in house, there is no excuse for essentially handing out free lunch to competitors by sitting pat(especially when you do not have the platform to have that luxury of waiting). Of course, they could have all the best ideas in #3 above, but if they cant solve the issue here, Google just simply gets to most partners before them and has a better story too because of #1 ("all your customers use Android and it has OK Google built in").
      • Angusmatheson

        That is brilliant. What if Microsoft sold Cortana to every company to replace their terrible automated phone systems? If it were good at what it needs to do, it could even be limited in other ways. It uses Microsofts dominance and established relationships in enterprise, and avoids its weakness in mobile. It actually might be a better play, becuase companies will pay for that, no one is paying for Cortana on PC. That is Cortana's future! In reply to Roger Ramjet:

  5. Bats

    "Long game"? LOL....Microsoft has no long game. Microsoft's long game has always been to try to "steal" the market. That has always been the strategy and it has always been a failure. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that. That's the nature of the business, however Microsoft is just so bad at doing it. When one thinks about it, how can anyone not laugh? To be fully honest, Cortana is like Windows 10 S, it's functional but it's not ready. What hardware company is going to want that in their product? The only thing that I can think of being the problem for Microsoft, is that Paul's friends who work there are just not that smart.

  6. Mark from CO


    You're coming to the conclusion that many of your readers have been advancing for at least a year.

    Perhaps its time to start asking Satya what's going on. Fact is, in some ways, Microsoft is slower to market and in addressing real market concerns than it has ever been. Satya has been in place now for almost 4 years. This strategy is his. He should get the blame/credit for the results.

    I know the reply is he's making a successful transition to the 'cloud' and a focus on the enterprise. Is he really? With no real consumers, who many of your readers are telling you are pushing technology decisions in the enterprise, who increasingly don't even know Microsoft exists, and with all of IT (including business) becoming more and more mobile, do you really think Microsoft is really well positioned to succeed long term?

    Mark from CO

  7. hrlngrv

    The long game . . . so if MSFT survives long enough it may regain dominance just through random chance?

    MSFT doesn't want to spend the money to make NEW hardware. Even Surface tablets were just refinements on the tablet PC concept which has been around since Windows XP days (and further back in terms of Star Trek props). MSFT is too, er, mature to be able to be that entrepreneurial.

  8. Roger Ramjet

    I think HK itself is following a bad strategy. If they are going to work with all the players, they should put all the Assistants in all the speakers. Some European company announced this with their light bulbs a couple months back (Alexa, Google, Siri - and that was the give to me that Cortana is 4th, and first out, which is why what MS did with Amazon is sensible. You need to respond to reality, and the earlier the better. See mobile phones).

    But then again for HK, maybe they could put additional Assistants on any Speaker via software patches? (if they run an open OS rather than anything properitary). If so, the Speaker/Ambient market isn't the same as the mobile market and we still need to see.

    If Microsoft is "playing a long game" it had better be a differentiated and sensible one. Right now they are losing badly. But I can see how they can win if they carve out a niche based on Enterprise services pulling in consumers - rather than just dumping Speakers at Best Buy like everybody else. But even such a game will not withstand implementation that is too slow. As pointed out below Amazon also does not have mobile, and by all accounts their AI tech is inferior to MS & Google's. Yet it was Amazon that led in implementation and Google that quickly followed. Microsoft behaved like Apple, like they have all the time in the world to get to market. Apple does, Microsoft didn't.

  9. SvenJ

    "the Invoke never shipping," What is that supposed to mean? It isn't expected to ship until the Fall. Check the web site. These two new offerings haven't shipped either, and neither has Apple's. Not disputing that a Cortana powered smart speaker has a tough road ahead, but no need to kill it in the womb. For those that are looking for a decent audio source with some smarts, it's an option that probably fills the need, without being in an ecosystem you might not want (iOS, Google). Echo, with a preponderance of skills is a tougher nut, but if Cortana and Alexa collaborate, there mat be some interesting synergy there.

    Cortana's biggest hindrance is the lack of main stream exposure for Cortana. Not like she isn't in a lot of homes, considering Win 10 and Xbox, she is just not well known. At a PC you have your hands on a keyboard and mouse, and the impetuous to talk is reduced over a mobile device. When you search, you are using Cortana, but who knows that? I invoke her periodically on tablets, and a WP, and she does reasonably well with her responses and system interface requests. As effective as Siri at least. I don't know if Cortana based devices will go anywhere, but I don't think they are inherently doomed. A big question is going to be what HK thinks the Invoke is worth, and how it is priced against the echo and google options.

    • PeteB

      In reply to SvenJ:

      "She", "she", "she". Found the MS employee.

      Cortana is terrible, it's useless in windows desktop and gets ignored on Xbox too. YouTube is full of videos showing asking Cortana something 3x and it just spits back random garbage, then asking Google and it nails it first time every time. Cortana international support is even more lacking.

      It's over.

      • Angusmatheson

        I also think naming Cortana after a naked, blue skinned woman with gravity defying anatomy from an incredibly violent videogame may not have been the best play to attract a group of users who aren't 13 year old boys. Yes, Cortana in Windows 10 is so much more. But why link it to this part of computing that most mainstream users wouldn't be interested in and for many users might be offensive. It seems a self inflicted wound. And why insist Cortana is female? It ties the assistant to the character. Is that really what Microsoft wants? In reply to PeteB:

  10. madthinus

    Ok, I will write it, Cortana is another dead platform.

    • pwrof3

      In reply to madthinus:
      I kind of wish Cortana would die, so I can go back to saying "XBOX, ON" or "XBOX, RECORD THAT" instead of saying "Hey Cortana" .. (wait for 45 seconds as the cortana UI slowly comes up).
      It was so much better before.

    • VasiS

      In reply to madthinus:

      It'll not be dead as long as it'll stay as the assistant with-in Windows and Xbox, but relegated to the limited audience and use it'll receive. Considering that Cortana hasn't performed well on Xbox and hasn't been improved. It says a lot about the priority of the assistant even on MS hardware.

    • VancouverNinja

      In reply to madthinus:

      You are funny! Any other jokes?

  11. Aras

    I happened to be playing Halo 5: Guardians last night and found the continued reminders of Cortana's death rather amusing. Perhaps Microsoft is being a bit subliminal in its references.

  12. mrdrwest

    The Invoke looks like a mini cake holder.