Cortana Unbound: Microsoft Finally Opens Up Its Digital Assistant to Devices

Posted on December 13, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Dev, Hardware, Mobile, Music + Videos, Windows 10 with 36 Comments

As Brad noted earlier today, Harman Kardon is building a Cortana-based alternative to Amazon Echo and Google Home. But it won’t stop there: Microsoft is in fact opening up Cortana quite a bit to developers, and it will let them put this technology in a wide variety of devices.

Let’s talk “Cortana Cube.” Suddenly, it’s a thing again.

That Harman Kardon device is just one of what I assume will be many hardware devices based on the newly-announced the Cortana Skills Kit and Cortana Devices SDK.

“The Cortana Skills Kit is designed to help developers reach the growing audience of 145 million Cortana users, helping users get things done while driving discovery and engagement across platforms: Windows, Android, iOS, Xbox and new Cortana-powered devices,” the Windows Apps team says. “The Cortana Devices SDK will allow OEMs and ODMs to create a new generation of smart, personal devices – on no screen or the big screen, in homes and on wheels.”

That “no screen” bit is important. Yesterday, Mary Jo Foley reported on a WinHEC session at which Microsoft said it planned to add Cortana support to Windows 10 IoT Core devices … with screens.

“While some company watchers are expecting the addition of Far-field Voice to enable OEMs to build Windows-based devices similar to Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, Microsoft Principal Program Manager May Ji made it clear during her session that Microsoft’s focus — even with devices running the Internet of Things (IoT) Core version of Windows 10 — will be to have Cortana work on devices with screens, not those without screens,” Foley explained.

Ji showed images of Cortana running on screens on a refrigerator and a thermostat.

Today’s announcement reveals that no-screen devices—which is what Echo and Google Home are—will in fact be available, and as I noted previously, this is the more desirable approach because spoken word conversations are more natural and work better throughout a home. Requiring a screen means you’ve failed.

And Microsoft has finally spoken—well, written—the words I’ve wanted to hear. Because this is what I’ve been arguing about Cortana for a long time now.

“We believe that your personal assistant needs to help across your day wherever you are: home, at work and everywhere in between,” the Windows Apps Team states, correctly if belatedly. “We refer to this as Cortana being ‘unbound’ – tied to you, not to any one platform or device. That’s why Cortana is available on Windows 10, on Android and iOS, on Xbox and across mobile platforms.”

To make this vision a reality in 2017, Microsoft says it is working with a variety of partners across industries and hardware categories, including connected cars.

Bravo. Finally. But bravo.

 

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