Because of the introduction of devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, what would be Microsoft’s response to them?  Would they develop a stand-alone digital assistant device like their competitors?  Well, Microsoft did debut their product, but not in the way many would think.  They embraced a third-party SDK approach.

What does this mean?  Basically, this allows other device makers to embed Cortana functionality into any sort of hardware they want.  This means that where ever Cortana goes, Bing will certainnly follow.  The first device that will have this functionality is a Harman Kardon stand-alone speaker.  This device will be available in 2017.

Microsoft announced two things related to Cortana in San Francisco on December 13th:

  1. Cortana Devices SDKMicrosoft
  2. Cortana Skills Kit Preview

Cortana Skills, like Alexa skills, allow third party developers to integrate with Cortana as a voice-search/virtual assistant front end:

The Cortana Skills Kit will allow developers to leverage bots created with the Microsoft Bot Framework and publish them to Cortana as a new skill, to integrate their web services as skills and to repurpose code from their existing Alexa skills to create Cortana skills. It will connect users to skills when users ask, and proactively present skills to users in the appropriate context. And it will help developers personalize their experiences by leveraging Cortana’s understanding of users’ preferences and context, based on user permissions.

According to Microsoft, a number of early partners were developing Cortana skills – Knowmail, Capital One, Expedia and TalkLocal. Virtual assistant “skills” (a term coined by Amazon) are the new apps.

When it comes to device integration, Microsoft’s SDK approach will let Cortana be present on any device or operating system.  Currently, Cortana is available on Windows 10, Android, iOS and the Xbox.  Cortana is used by 145 million users.  With the new SDK, almos any hardware OEM could embed Cortana and benefit from Cortana skills.

This approach is consistent with the Microsoft platform software strategy that emerged with the appointment of CEO Satya Nadella.  This eans that Cortana could possibly get integrated into many more devices and device categories than the likes of Amazon and Google.

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