Cortana-Powered Harman Kardon Invoke to Take On Amazon's Echo

Google Home and Alexa are getting competition this fall from Cortana when the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker goes on sale.


The smart speaker scene is going to get a little more crowded this fall. Harman today officially took the wraps off the Invoke, a new speaker that will join Amazon Echo and Google Home in an increasingly competitive market for voice-activated virtual assistants.

Late last year, Microsoft and audio equipment maker Harman, a subsidiary of electronics giant Samsung, offered an early glimpse at the device, revealing little else except that it would be powered by Microsoft Cortana, the company's answer to Apple Siri, and would accept voice input to play music, set reminders and other tasks. Today, the companies are offering a better look at the Invoke along with the tech that makes it tick.

Available in the U.S. sometime in the fall of 2017, the Harman Kardon Invoke will produce sound using three woofers and three tweeters arranged to deliver 360-degree sound. A dual passive-radiator design will help owners get "solid bass performance" from the compact unit, claims the company. An array of seven microphones, along with Harman's echo cancellation, beam forming and noise reduction technologies, will help Cortana pick up voice commands.

Users will be able to ask Cortana questions, catch up on the news, manage their calendars and perform many of the other tasks. Skype users will be able to use the Invoke to place and receive hands-free voice calls. Reinforcing its connections to Microsoft's AI-assisted technology, the device's top panel features "Cortana lighting" that mimics how Cortana appears in the Windows 10 operating system.

"We want Cortana to be available wherever you may need assistance being more productive, and the Invoke speaker from Harman Kardon is our next step in getting there," wrote Marcus Ash, partner group program manager of Microsoft Cortana, in a May 8 announcement. "With natural language recognition and deep integration with Microsoft's suite of knowledge and productivity tools, Cortana is the most productive digital assistant and already used by more than 145 million people on PC and mobile devices."

When the Harman Kardon Invoke arrives on store shelves, it will be available in black and white, or "Graphite" and "Pearl Silver." Pricing details haven't been released, but it's worth noting that the Amazon Echo and Google Home currently retail for around $150 and $115, respectively.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's competition isn't sitting still.

Last month, Amazon essentially gave Alexa eyes with the introduction of the Echo Look. In addition to capturing photos and videos, the $200 device can be used as a style assistant, helping owners piece together trendy outfits.

Google recently announced an update that will enable families to associate up to six accounts to Google Home. Moreover, it can automatically recognize the voice belonging to each of those accounts.

"We're adding the ability for up to six people to connect their account to one Google Home," said Yury Pinsky, a Google Assistant product manager, in an April 20 announcement. "So now when I ask my Google Assistant for help, it can distinguish my voice from my wife's and I can hear my own personal playlists, my own commute time, my own schedule and more."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...