Harman/Kardon readies a Cortana-powered speaker

Microsoft is making available to its partners, like audio specialist Harman/Kardon, a new software development kit to help them build Cortana-capable devices.

Microsoft hasn't fielded -- at least so far -- a device that's similar to an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. But at least one of its OEM partners is working on such a device for release some time next year.

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Harman/Kardon is planning to release a new audio device that will allow voice interaction with Cortana, Microsoft officials said on December 13.

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Microsoft is making available to hardware partners a Cortana Devices software development kit (SDK) which will allow them to build devices on a variety of platforms that will work with Cortana. Microsoft officials said the devices SDK will work with devices running Windows IoT, Linux, Android "and more."

Last week, Microsoft officials told OEMs that devices running Windows 10 IoT would need to have screens in order to work with Cortana. I'm assuming that means Harman Kardon's coming speaker is not running Windows 10 IoT. I've asked Microsoft and have yet to hear back.

Update (December 15): A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on which operating system or firmware will be inside the Harman Cortana-powered speaker. The only statement that the company is providing is this:

"The Cortana Devices SDK enables OEMs/ODMs to build smart devices powered by Cortana that are equipped with a microphone, speaker and/or displays. It's delivered as a collection of open source libraries and protocols that can be used by OEMs / ODMs to embed Cortana on platforms of their choice including popular Linux variants and embedded OSes."

So my guess remains that the Harman speaker will not be running Windows 10 IoT Core, as that operating system will only support Cortana if there is a display, as Microsoft announced at WinHEC. There seems to be no display requirement for Cortana but only when it's used on a Linux, Android or other non-Windows-10-IoT-Core operating system.

Microsoft is touting Cortana's two-way audio communications with Skype, email, calendar, and list integration as its competitive advantages. Microsoft's blog post says the company also is working to enable Cortana integration in the connected-car space.

While some have dubbed Harman/Kardon's speaker as Microsoft's Echo competitor, that's not technically true. This is not a device from Microsoft, even though Microsoft did post a video tease for the coming device:

At last year's Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft and Harman announced they were working together on bringing Office 365 dashboards to Harman's in-car infotainment systems.

Microsoft also plans to make available in February 2017 in preview form a Cortana Skills Kit. The kit will allow developers to take advantage of bots created with the Microsoft Bot Framework and publish them to Cortana as a new skill or repurpose code from an Alexa skill to create a Cortana skill.

Those interested in getting access to the Skills Kit preview can sign up on Microsoft's developer site.

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