Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

With Cortana in a coma, Microsoft’s smart home ambitions look bleak

Microsoft’s Surface event on Wednesday showed all of us yet again that there’s always one more thing to get excited about. The unveiling of its latest Surface line of tablets and laptops in New York City had all of the hallmark trademarks of past Microsoft events, like Panos Panay’s impeccable showtime delivery, but the tease about the company’s upcoming foldables — the Microsoft Duo and Neo — stole the show at the end.

However, there was just one thing that got under my skin during the announcement. And that was the lack of any mention of Cortana, Microsoft’s oft-forgotten voice assistant.

No love for Cortana

Microsoft’s virtual assistant had no mention whatsoever during the event, which itself was already packed with some compelling product announcements. Even more puzzling is how Microsoft unveiled its Surface Earbuds, a direct rival to many of the popular true wireless earbuds recently announced, without having any sort of Cortana integration. Considering how much Microsoft has poured into the development of Cortana, it’s shocking that it was left out of it altogether.

When you factor that Cortana is already in every Windows 10-powered computer (we even had a Cortana-powered smart speaker with the 2017 released Harman Kardon Invoke), you would think it’d be a no-brainer decision to leverage Cortana’s abilities in other products. Indeed, she’s still limited when compared against her contemporaries, but it looks as though Microsoft didn’t feel confident enough to incorporate Cortana into the Surface Earbuds like Amazon did with its upcoming Alexa-focused Echo Buds.

Don’t expect a Microsoft push into the smart home

harmon kardon invoke review on table
Terry Walsh/Digital Trends

Seriously, it’s tough competing in the smart home market. The virtual assistant is arguably the core component of any smart home, but there are two established players that have gobbled up the market: Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant have been duking it out for supremacy. Both of them are incredibly intelligent and offer a diverse ecosystem of smart home gadgets, with tech juggernauts such as Apple and Samsung finding themselves lagging behind with challenges they’ve faced in penetrating the smart home market with their respective smart speakers.

Microsoft certainly has a challenge ahead of itself before they even tinker around and become more serious about attacking the smart home market. For starters, Cortana has been largely reserved for basic virtual assistant functions. Yes, you can ask her questions, set reminders and alarms, perform search functions, and even ask her some fun facts, but these are nothing extraordinary. Furthermore, Amazon and Google have shown us the deeper level of automation that their virtual assistants bring to the table — like remotely controlling your lights at home, setting schedules for robot vacuums, brewing a pot of coffee in the morning, and much more.

Worse yet, no one is leveraging Cortana unless they’re using a Windows 10 computer — and you can’t factor in Windows Phone, just because as we know, life support has been pulled from it entirely.

Focusing on one thing at a time

Image used with permission by copyright holder

You can’t fault Microsoft for not mentioning Cortana during its Surface event. The tech giant is fully capable of delivering remarkable gadgets that can change our lives, but I can comprehend why there’s no sense of urgency with tackling the smart home market — for now. I’ve already mentioned the market dominance held by Google and Amazon, but Microsoft doesn’t need another Windows Phone fiasco. We didn’t think that Microsoft could ever become an established hardware manufacturer, but it proved us wrong with the Surface line.

Unlike Samsung, which officially announced its smart speaker at its Galaxy Unpacked event over a year ago, Microsoft hasn’t given us any indication that they’re embarking on attacking the smart home market anytime soon. Even mighty Apple has trouble making a dent in this space, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if it’s a while before Microsoft fancies the idea. That’s not a bad strategy either, especially when there’s still plenty for Cortana to implement before it can go toe-to-toe with its peers. There’s a reason why Microsoft has proven itself in mobile computing, and that’s because of the focus on Surface at the moment.

You can’t blame them for not taking the plunge and going all-out Amazon by tackling brand new product segments. A focused approach is simply better in the long run, but let’s not take too long to see what Cortana can do in our smart homes, Microsoft.

Editors' Recommendations

John Velasco
John is the Smart Home editor at Digital Trends covering all of the latest tech in this emerging market. From uncovering some…
The truth about outdoor smart home gadgets and extreme cold
House buried in snow by blizzard.

Electronics and smart home gadgets bring convenience and automation to your home and often need minimal maintenance, save for the odd firmware update. However, owners living in cities with extreme winters need to worry about how the weather will impact their gear. Most shoppers are eager to set up and play with their new toys, and they mainly worry about getting them quickly with that luxurious same-day shipping and don’t think ahead to how that new device will operate when the weather turns harsh.

The truth is, if you live where it gets bitterly, extremely cold, your smart devices like wireless cameras, lights, and other components will likely stop working. Here's everything you need to know about smart home devices and cold weather.
Pay attention to temperature range
When shopping for an outdoor device, we usually pay attention to the IP rating. Many people see this number and assume it means their gadget is impervious to any kind of weather. That might be true to some extent, but the IP rating doesn't extend to extreme heat or extreme cold. IP ratings only rate for water and/or dust ingression, not for how effectively cold or heat can penetrate. To know how a device might be able to withstand cold winters or hot summers, you need to check the temperature operating range.

Read more
Here’s how to throw a killer Halloween party with your smart home
spooky halloween lighting haunted house

The spooky season is almost here, and if you’re worried about throwing the perfect Halloween party, consider using your smart home to do the heavy lifting. Common smart home gadgets such as motion sensors, light bulbs, and smart plugs make it easy to pull off a horrifying Halloween party for your guests. From assisting with your playlist and movie selections to creating a chilling ambiance, here’s a look at all the ways your smart home can help you throw a killer Halloween party.
Use motion sensors to trigger spooky sounds
Have a smart home security system? Then you can probably rig up your motion sensors to play a spooky noise. It doesn't necessarily have to be a motion sensor, either -- your smart camera can trigger other devices in your smart home when it detects motion.

Just place a speaker on your porch, perhaps tucked away behind a pumpkin or a bit of straw. When a group of unsuspecting kids shows up to ask for candy, they set off the motion sensor on the camera, which triggers the speaker to play the sound of a zombie's moan or the cackle of a witch. Bonus points if you set up an animatronic hand to rise up out of the straw.

Read more
Why moving your smart home could be a nightmare
Philips Hue Appear Outdoor smart light.

The smart home concept is a great thing. It allows us to automate things from lighting to temperature, make video calls while we prepare dinner, and get answers to questions instantly. In its current state, it has one fatal flaw, however: The smart home is not really meant to move.

In fact, you might want to leave behind the majority of your smart home gadgets when selling your property.
What to know about moving smart home gadgets
Think about it: Some of us have literally dozens of devices including lights, thermostats, robot vacuums, speakers, security cameras, wireless alarm systems, and more. How would you go about removing, relocating, and reconnecting all those devices to Wi-Fi in a new house if you ever need to move? On the surface, it sounds daunting.

Read more