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Harman Kardon's Cortana-powered smart speaker will support two-way Skype calls

Why it matters to you

Harman Kardon's Cortana-based smart speaker will be the first of its kind to let you make two-way Skype calls.

There is a massive battle in the personal digital assistant space, with a number of companies fighting to become the one that people talk to. Things started out with Siri, Google Now, and Cortana on smartphones, but has branched out to stand-alone home-assistant devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home.

Microsoft is expected to join this latter category, which is essentially “headless” devices, or those that function largely by voice and that don’t have displays, keyboards, and mice. Specifically, Cortana will be running on a “premium smart speaker” produced by Harman Kardon, and it will offer two-way Skype calling to go with its other functionality, MS Poweruser reports.

Harman Kardon’s Cortana-powered speaker is expected to be released sometime in the second quarter of 2017, meaning it could be available in the next few months. What makes or breaks a device and service like this is how well developers support it by creating new “skills” that extend its capabilities.

Microsoft understands this, of course, and it recently sent an email to Amazon Alexa Skills developers as part of a campaign to convince them to port their skills to Microsoft’s Cortana platform. In this email, it identified a capability that could leverage Microsoft’s Skype platform: “Your skill will also run on the upcoming Harman Kardon premium smart speaker, a Cortana-powered device that will come out-of-the-box with Cortana’s productivity skills, two-way Skype calling, and extensive library of facts and answers.”

Every company involved in this space needs to take advantage of their relative strengths. Amazon is strong in product sales, Google is strong in search, and Microsoft is strong in terms of its various productivity, communications, and collaborative products and services. Integrating Skype with Cortana in such a complete fashion would significantly enhance the value of a headless personal assistant like Harman Kardon’s smart speaker.

The evidence suggests that 2017 will be an important year for establishing the relevance of competing personal digital assistants. Things are heating up, and they are only going to get hotter when Cortana devices join Alexa and Google home in this increasingly competitive market.