Microsoft might have some secret weapons in store for its Echo competitor

You may have caught a glimpse of Microsoft’s teaser for its Amazon Echo competitor the other day. It’s a Harman Kardon speaker running Cortana that aims to take on not just the Echo, but also the likes of Google Home and whatever Samsung eventually comes out with running Bixby (besides the Galaxy S8 of course). But against such fierce competition, does Microsoft’s digital assistant speaker stand a chance?

In short: absolutely. But there are quite a few things to consider when trying to predict how well a virtual assistant product will do on the market. First, there are the obvious things, like the quality and feature-set of the virtual assistant itself and the hardware in which it exists.

Then there are other less obvious aspects like compatibility with other devices, price points, form factors and other barriers to entry. And then there’s the issue of the openness of the platform to third-party developers and manufacturers, which can have an immense impact on its growth.

With these things in mind, how well is Microsoft’s Cortana speaker going to stack up? Google Assistant will likely always have the edge on search, and Amazon has a massive array of skills and third-party integrations already thanks to being first to market. Microsoft’s product design, which reeks of the Amazon Echo, isn’t going to differentiate it, so what secret weapons does Microsoft have?

Google Assistant will likely always have the edge on search, and Amazon has a massive array of skills and third-party integrations already.

Cortana vs the competition

The thing with digital assistants housed in speakers is that, like most things in life, it’s essentially what’s inside that counts. No one really buys a virtual assistant speaker based on looks. If they did, Google wouldn’t stand a chance (air freshener burn!). But Google Home still has a very good chance at being the dominant speaker in years to come, because Google. That is, until Apple releases some overpriced home AI product.

But if you were to ask me for a gut-reaction to which virtual assistant is best, I wouldn’t put Cortana at the top of the list, but it probably wouldn’t be at the bottom either. Of course, depending on what you use your digital assistant for, your mileage may vary: everyone has their preferred digital assistant for their own particular reasons.

Preference for an AI assistant boils down to two things: the quality of its voice recognition and enhanced functionality.

But ultimately, that preference boils down to two things: voice recognition and enhanced functionality. A virtual assistant is no good if it can’t understand you or is incapable of doing much.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s teaser don’t exactly inspire us with confidence. The only ‘skills’ shown in the short video are playing a song and setting a reminder. This is not the stuff of AI dreams.