Microsoft: We're not giving up on Cortana (even in home automation)

Cortana's not going away, insist Microsoft executives, touting at CES 2018 a number of under-the-radar wins for Microsoft's digital assistant.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Video: Watch out, Nest: Microsoft just teased a Cortana thermostat

All the new wins for Alexa and Google Assistant announced at CES 2018 this week have led many to wonder about Cortana's prospects.


ZDNet's Larry Dignan went so far as to call CES "Cortana's funeral." And the news about Microsoft's vague commitments around Cortana and Dynamics 365 as well as the relatively tiny number of skills available for Microsoft's digital assistant haven't made Cortana's future seem very bright, to say the least.

Microsoft is trying to fight back against perceptions that Cortana may be its next consumer-centric technology to face the chopping block.

On Jan. 9, the company issued a press releasing touting recent wins for Cortana. Among these are the officially unveiled Johnson Controls' Cortana-powered thermostat (which goes on sale for $319 starting in March).

Other recent Cortana device partners:

  • Allwinner. This company has the Tech R16 Quad Core IoT solution (a reference design for device partners).
  • Synaptics: This ODM (original design manufacturer) and far-field voice processing vendor produces reference designs for consumer IoT, smart speakers, PC, and more that integrate Cortana.
  • TONLY: Another reference design vendor working with Microsoft on Cortana devices that make use of Skype.
  • Qualcomm: In addition to partnering with Microsoft on Windows-on-ARM "Always Connected" PCs, Qualcomm is building reference designs on its Smart Audio and Mesh Networking platforms that use Cortana.

A Microsoft spokesperson I contacted said there are additional new Cortana partners not listed in the Jan. 9 blog post that are going public with their Cortana wares at CES.

"In addition to our currently supported home automation partners, we are announcing new partnerships with Ecobee, Geeni, Honeywell Lyric, IFTTT, LIFX, TP-Link Kasa, and Honeywell Total Connect Comfort. Cortana currently supports lights, outlets, switches, and thermostats across all providers," the spokesperson said.

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By the way, there's still no word from Microsoft or Amazon about when the Cortana-Alexa integration promised several months ago -- and slated to be available before the end of 2017 -- will happen. Seemingly, it's still on the roadmap, even though Amazon is working with PC makers to create Windows 10 apps that will enable Alexa to work on those devices, starting with music playback. (Cortana is integrated with all Windows 10 PCs, so this app would be supplemental, not a replacement for Cortana.)

Microsoft executives insist the company isn't in retreat with Cortana. From today's blog post:

"Regardless of the device or context, our goal is to put Cortana everywhere you need assistance, whether that is on your PC, phone, Xbox, mixed reality headsets, intelligent home speakers, thermostats and even more in the future. You'll continue to see Cortana integrated on your favorite devices and services throughout the year to come."

I'm hoping to hear more details from Microsoft execs soon (TM) about how they think they can regain market and mind share, as they seemingly fall further behind in many of these markets with Cortana.

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