Man sitting at a table and holding a mug looking at the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker on the table

Harman Kardon Unveils Its Cortana-Powered Amazon Echo Rival

Harman Kardon has officially announced its debut smart speaker, which includes Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant. Called the Invoke, the device will rival the Amazon Echo and offers 360-degree audio, voice-controlled smart features, and integration with Skype.

Harman Kardon and Microsoft unveiled the Invoke today. Its basic design is typical of other smart speakers, obviously drawing on the cylindrical look pioneered by the Amazon Echo. Its aluminum chassis has a solid base, a large speaker around the rest of the body, and a subtly pulsing Cortana light ring at the top.

Technical details haven’t yet been announced. However, Harman Kardon has confirmed the Invoke has 360-degree speakers that project audio in every direction. This makes the device ideal for central placement in a room, allowing you to listen to clear audio and interact with the smart aspects from wherever you are. In turn, the ease of use conforms to the smart speaker ideals of simplifying actions commonly completed on a phone.

The Invoke relies on Microsoft’s Cortana for its digital assistance technology. It incorporates a long-range microphone system so you can issue voice commands from across the room. The Invoke will continually listen for the “Hey Cortana” trigger that already works with Windows 10 PCs and the Cortana app for phones.

[Image by Harman Kardon]

Cortana can control music playback, send messages, check your calendar, and keep you updated with the latest headlines. It can also be used to set reminders, check the traffic on your way to work, and control connected appliances in your smart home. The latter capability will be new for the Invoke, and Microsoft is staying quiet on the details. It’s the company’s latest effort to keep Cortana relevant next to the expansion of Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant.

As well its digital assistant functionality, the Invoke can be used to handle Skype calls. You can talk hands-free to friends and family while cooking, tidying your home, or relaxing in front of the TV. You won’t need to keep your phone with you or struggle to hear its speaker if the ambient environment is noisy.

The Invoke represents Cortana’s debut in a smart speaker. Harman Kardon and Microsoft have worked closely to form a strong link between the device and its AI, aiming to create a device that has benefits for both of the companies.

From Harman Kardon’s perspective, the Invoke reaffirms the company’s reputation for delivering high-quality, market-leading sound systems. As the Amazon Echo rises in popularity, the market for designer speakers that can be the centerpiece of a home has developed. The Invoke is Harman Kardon’s first attempt to enter this market, explore emerging assistance technology, and attract new customers.

[Image by Harman Kardon]

For Microsoft, the Invoke aids the company’s long-term plans for its Cortana assistant. Microsoft wants Cortana to be available everywhere you interact with technology and the internet, whether it’s on your PC, your phone, or at the focal point of your home.

The strong sales seen by the Amazon Echo and Google Assistant have demonstrated there’s a market for smart speaker products. By partnering with Harman Kardon, Microsoft can gain a foothold in the growing market without investing in hardware development itself.

“We want Cortana to be available wherever you may need assistance being more productive, and the Invoke speaker from Harman Kardon is our next step in getting there,” said Microsoft. “With Invoke, Cortana now becomes available in the home, making her even more valuable.”

Harman Kardon is currently accepting pre-registrations for the Invoke’s launch. The company said it expects to start shipping devices in the fall of this year. It will only be available in the U.S. and must be paired with a phone running iOS 8.0 or higher, Android 4.1.2 or higher, or the Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update. There’s no indication of whether Harman Kardon will bring the Invoke to more regions after its initial release.

[Featured Image by Harman Kardon]

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