How Cortana Can Survive in a world of Alexa, Siri and Google (premium)

Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant is seemingly everywhere and yet it is also nowhere at the same time. It's the Schrödinger's cat of modern-AI assistants and the company has once again found itself in a peculiar position with the platform with a mixed outlook on its future.

Cortana was early out of the gate for Microsoft and the company has done a good job of making the assistant available everywhere. We all know the challenges of not having a mobile platform has placed on Microsoft and the Cortana team is doing the best it can with this massive constraint.

But at the end of the day, Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Google's awfully named Assistant have taken the market and mindshare with the consumer. You can argue all you want but for the consumer, these are the primary platforms in play today even though Cortana is integrated into Windows 10.

The reason for this is that these assistants work best in ambient-computing scenarios and the classic PC isn't designed for this...which is fine. We are moving from a world where mouse and keyboards were once required to now simply yelling at a sky-computer can get you the same information.

What I'm talking about are smart speakers that are easy to install and can be put nearly anywhere in your home.

Microsoft and Harman Kardon are about to finally release a new device that will be Cortana's first move towards a smart speaker. This long-overdue product will arrive later this month, according to what Harman Kardon told me yesterday, but unfortunately, I don't know the price.

The good news is that I do think that this product does have a market but the bad news is that I'm not so sure that it's for the consumer.

For the Invoke to sell well with the consumer, it has to feature match everything the Echo does today and then best it in some capacity. Why would you buy an Invoke over an Echo when an Echo is superior and while Google's Home is catching up quickly to the Echo, the Invoke likely has a long way to go.

As with everything these days, it's not about the device, it's about the ecosystem around it. Echo has a massive foundation of 'skills' (third party apps) already but we don't know the story about Cortana. Obviously, Groove integration won't be of much use but we do know that Cortana does handle the basic interactions quite well.

But there's one thing that Cortana will be able to do that Microsoft could stop Echo or Home from ever achieving, integrating with your workplace.

At Ignite, Microsoft showed how an Invoke+Cortana can work with Office 365 to improve your workflow. For example, you can tell Cortana to set an out of office message or have it reserve a conference room. I'd also like to think that they are working on integrating these ambient devices with a Surface Hub as well to make it easier to answer or make Skype calls.

For sales teams, a neat trick could be 'tell me about who is in this meeting' and have Cortana read their LinkedIn page too.


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