In 2014, Amazon’s Alexa kicked off the craze of putting stand-alone digital assistants in the home with its Echo device. Google Home followed suit in 2016, offering a similar device that responds to voice commands, but powered by Google Assistant and the company various other digital properties.
Ever since Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant joined Apple’s Siri in providing voice-response intelligence to PCs and has grown in power and popularity, speculation has been running wild about the possibility of Microsoft introducing an Alexa- and Google Home-like intelligent home assistant. Recent information suggests that while Microsoft does indeed have plans for a “Home Hub” product, it might be entirely PC-based, as Windows Central reports.
While the earliest rumors were around Microsoft providing a stand-alone hardware device like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, those appear to have been premature. Code referring to “Home Hub” components has surfaced in Windows 10 Anniversary, indicating indicate Microsoft is looking to incorporate family-friendly features into Windows 10 that will make PCs — and not a stand-alone, voice-only device — serve as the center of users’ homes.
Rather than being a piece of hardware, then, Home Hub looks to actually be a set of software services running in Windows 10. The core services will expand Cortana to pull in and share family information to provide shared services for all of a family’s members. Shared calendars, task lists, notifications, and more will extend beyond the individual and allow Microsoft’s digital assistant to work with entire families as well.
The Windows 10 lock screen will service as a central display for Home Hub information. Rather than simply showing an individual’s various information, such as calendar notifications, the Home Hub “Welcome Screen” will provide a shared environment for families to reference and interact. Presumably, this functionality will run on a shared PC located in a home’s common area.
Finally, Home Hub will also include the intelligence to connect to smart home components. So far, it looks like Home Hub will integrate with Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) and Open Translators to Things (OpenT2T) systems, meaning that a number of today’s smart home devices will work with Home Hub immediately.
While Microsoft is concentrating on providing the Home Hub software within Windows 10, that doesn’t mean its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners couldn’t come up with their own Home Hub-specific hardware devices. While Home Hub isn’t “headless” like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, that is, it doesn’t run without a display, there’s nothing stopping a Dell or an HP from making a Home Hub device that uses Windows 10 and family oriented Cortana to compete more directly with Alexa and Home.
If you’re looking to jump onto the home assistant bandwagon with Microsoft’s Home Hub, it appears that you’ll have to wait awhile. Home Hub may make its debut in the upcoming Creators Update due in Sprint 2017, most of it will have to wait for the Redstone 3 update coming in late 2017 and possibly even Redstone 4, estimated for 2018. In other words, it will be some time before Microsoft’s Home Hub initiative can hope to replace Amazon Alexa and Google Home in letting you control your home and interact with your family with a Cortana-driven home assistant.