That’s not a moment too soon. Microsoft (msft) is playing catchup to Amazon’s two-year-old Echo, which as of last month has sold an estimated 15 million units, and Google Home, a distant second in sales. Invoke gets its voice recognition smarts from Microsoft Cortana.
With Cortana also embedded in its Windows 10 operating system, Microsoft is banking that integration with its Office 365 applications will make Invoke attractive for the many people who use Office at work. They can ask Invoke, for example, to check their Outlook calendars, and create reminders without pulling out a PC or phone. Cortana can also run on Apple (aapl) iPhones and Android devices, although it is unclear how much traction it has had beyond the Microsoft ecosystem.
This is a crucial market for Microsoft, says Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller. Microsoft needs data from people’s kitchens and living rooms as well as their offices. Amazon Echo’s success aside, the home assistant market is still in its infancy in his view.
There is yet another big shoe to drop in this space with Apple slated to make its HomePod device, which combines high-quality audio with voice commands, available in December.
There will be lots of “oohs and aahs” when HomePod debuts, Mueller said but the Microsoft ecosystem is bigger than Apple’s ecosystem. “Invoke’s connection with Windows 10 PCs and the data on them is the potential and is why Microsoft is far from out of this market.”
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These smart connected speakers, also known as virtual personal assistants, are part of a white-hot market for connected home devices. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Apple all want consumers to use their respective technology to control connected gadgets, from smart lights and thermostats to audio-video gear. And they all gather data about user behavior and preferences from interactions with the devices, which helps them fine tune their own AI technologies. The potential misuse or sharing of that data is something that worries privacy advocates.
Note: (October 20, 2017 10:35 a.m. EDT) this story was updated with information on other Microsoft hardware partners and analyst comment.