Microsoft patents a mini speaker that could complement its Teams service

If and when Microsoft moves ahead with its own portable speaker, it is more likely to fit into its Teams and smart-meetings strategy than to go head-to-head with other consumer-focused devices.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: USPTO

There have been rumors circulating for a while about Microsoft making its own Echo-like speaker. With the company stepping back from marketing Cortana as a standalone assistant, many believed Microsoft wouldn't launch such a device. But a new patent filing shows the company may still be interested in making its own speaker, but likely as part of its Teams and corporate collaboration strategy.

Microsoft filed an application for a portable speaker patent in August 2017. That patent just became public today, as noted by The Verge, which saw information about it via Windows United. The device looks similar to Google's Home Mini in size and materials. A couple of the inventors listed in the filing work for Microsoft's a design manager for Teams devices and Dustin Brown is with the company's envisioning labs division, as The Verge noted.

The usual disclaimer: A patent application does not indicate that a company is going to produce any type of product based on the said patent. But if it moves ahead with this speaker, Microsoft could opt to introduce it as part of its fall hardware launch on October 2

Microsoft has been working for several years to try to make meetings better via a variety of its products and services. It has made Teams the cornerstone of this effort, but also is including Cortana -- refocused as more of a productivity aide built into applications -- to help users set up and participate in meetings.

At a number of its recent conferences, Microsoft officials have shown off a conical, multi-microphone speaker which could help orchestrate meetings. At the same time, Microsoft has been continuing to work with a variety of OEM partners on making phones and conferencing devices more productive and compatible with its software and services. (These OEM devices often fall into the "Teams Rooms" category.)

At Build 2019, Microsoft announced it would make its conical microphone array available to those outside the company in the form of device developer kits (which are codenamed "Princeton Tower"). Audio-only microphone array DDKs can be purchased from http://ddk.roobo.com for roughly $100. Advanced audio-visual microphone array DDKs are available from Microsoft systems integration partners. 

The virtual/cloud piece of this solution is a Microsoft Research project, which is codenamed "Project Denmark." Instead of relying on dedicated microphone arrays, Project Denmark allows users to set up "virtual" microphone arrays using consumer devices like mobile phones and laptops with ordinary microphones. It fits into Microsoft's evolving ambient-computing strategy.   

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft isn't commenting on what it plans to do, if anything, with the portable speaker patent or any other unannounced hardware. "We don't comment on our product roadmap," a spokesperson said.

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