This week Microsoft entered an extremely specific market, already thoroughly dominated by Google and Amazon, with Invoke, its internet-connected speaker powered by Cortana, the company’s voice-activated personal assistant software. Users can verbally cue the device to issue future reminders, change the music, control smart-home devices, and answer questions. (For example, Cortana’s answer to “Who’s your daddy?” is “Technically speaking, that’d be Bill Gates. No big deal.”)
This makes Invoke’s functionality effectively identical to that of Google Home and the Amazon family of Echo devices. Even its physical resemblance to the Amazon Echo is striking. The only new thing on display here is the ability to make Skype calls, but we can expect to see this functionality become ubiquitous in the future. There’s simply nothing innovative in this me-too device.
Data says the smart-speaker market will grow by nearly 130 percent this year, so Microsoft is wise to take notice. But the projections aren’t flattering: Amazon dominates with 70.6 percent of total market share, Google follows with 23.8 percent, and Microsoft is one of several making up the remaining 5.6 percent.
There are two reasons that Microsoft would bother with such a seemingly doomed cause. First is that it may be able to successfully market a Cortana-powered speaker to the 145 million users who already habitually interact with Cortana via desktop, inside of Windows. If it can win enough of these users, that may lend momentum to more widespread adoption by others. The second reason is a little more basic: Microsoft wants to assert itself on the consumer homefront after getting shut out of consumer smartphones; Windows Phone was acknowledged as a “failure” by none other than Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and the next most meaningful territory the company can grab is our homes.
Regardless, the seas ahead are unsteady for the Invoke. Its release announcement comes years after the market was born, and the product won’t even be available for purchase until this fall.