Amazon Echo and Google Home will soon get competition from Microsoft.
Intelligent assistants are all the rage and today during an artificial intelligence (AI) media event in San Francisco, Microsoft announced the Cortana Devices SDK (software development kit). It allows electronics manufacturers to incorporate the software giant's AI-infused virtual assistant into their devices.
One of the earliest adopters is Harman Kardon, audio equipment maker.
Microsoft said the SDK "will carry Cortana's promise in personal productivity everywhere and deliver real-time, two-way audio communications with Skype, Email, calendar and list integration—all helping Cortana make life easier, everywhere," in a Dec. 13 announcement. "And, of course, it will carry Cortana expert skills across devices."
Microsoft and Harman Kardon released a brief teaser video, offering glimpses of a speaker that accepts voice commands. Like the competition, Harmon Kardon's speaker lights up when users call out for their respective assistants by name ("Hey Cortana," in this case) to play a song or perform other tasks.
Microsoft and Harman Kardon's answer to Amazon Echo and Google Home is set to arrive to arrive sometime in 2017. The Cortana Devices SDK is currently available as part of a private preview.
Cortana won't stop at speakers—in addition to Windows 10 PCs, Windows phones, Xbox and apps for iOS and Android. Microsoft also revealed that it is working with companies developing other types of hardware, including connected car suppliers. The SDK also supports a variety of platforms, including Android, Linux and Microsoft's own Windows IoT.
Last week, the company revealed that the upcoming Creators Update for Windows 10 will add Cortana to Windows IoT Core, a lightweight version of the operating systems for internet of things (IoT) devices.
Cortana Skills Kit, also announced today, enables developers to turn chatbots based on the Microsoft Bot Framework into Cortana skills. In addition, the software kit allows developers to repurpose their Alexa skills code or integrate their web services.
Early Cortana Skills Kit partners include Knowmail, a bot that applies AI to help Outlook and Office 365 users prioritize their emails based on their habits. Capital One is eyeing hand-free money management using natural language conversations with Cortana.
Also during the company's AI event today, the company unveiled a new project called Calendar.help. Blending technologies from Microsoft Research, the Outlook group and Genee, an AI-power online scheduling service the Microsoft acquired this past summer, Calendar.help allows Cortana to fulfill one of the most counted-on skills of a good personal assistant, juggling appointments.
After adding the Cortana to the CC: line in an email, the Calendar.help service analyzes the email's contents to propose meeting times based on a user's availability. Cortana handles all the back-and-forth until a time is settled on, preventing inbox clutter. If attendees don't respond within 48 hours, Cortana sends a reminder.
Microsoft is accepting Calendar.help preview sight-ups here (work email required).