Microsoft’s New Headphones Integrate Cortana
Microsoft announced their first wearable device from the Surface product line last week: wireless, bluetooth, noise canceling headphones featuring Cortana. The ear cups on the Surface headphones are touch sensitive and allow users to launch Cortana by either saying ‘Hey Cortana’ or using a long press on the ear cup. With the touch sensitive ear cups, users can also adjust up to 13 levels of noise-canceling and control the volume. The headphones will retail for $350, and Microsoft says they will launch November 19th, with pre-orders beginning November 15th.
The Surface headphones join a crew of other over the ear headphones featuring built-in voice assistants. Apple has reportedly been working on integrating Siri into headphones, Amazon Alexa has been integrated into 66 Audio’s PRO Voice headphones, and last year Bose released the QC35 II headphones featuring both Google Assistant and Alexa integration. The Bose QC35 II is $350, while 66 Audio’s PRO Voice is $139.99.
For the price point, the Surface headphones do not appear to have superior sound quality as compared to other similar headphones, like the comparable $350 wireless Beats headphones according to a recent review from The Verge. It seems that Microsoft may be relying on the integration of Cortana instead to be a key differentiator.
Is Cortana Enough to Stand out in the Crowd?
What will be the most interesting to see in the coming months is how consumers will respond to the integration of Cortana. Cortana may not have nearly as large of a market share as Google Assistant, Siri, or Alexa, because it requires the Windows OS to truly show off its abilities. The core features of Windows OS already integrate and leverage Cortana’s functionality, which makes the use of Cortana and the Surface headphones essentially seamless, like schedule management based off the user’s calendar for instance. And Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, and even Bixby all integrate with more devices. Therefore, it may be difficult for the Surface headphones to make their integration of Cortana an applicable feature to consumers. The use of Cortana could simply become clumsy for users who don’t use a Windows OS. If non Windows users want to launch Cortana with the Surface headphones, they will need to download an app either to their phone or PC first. And once the app is downloaded, it is unclear how much access Cortana will have to a users data on their device.
While most new earbuds released are integrating Voice AI, integration into over the ear headphones is still just beginning. Considering the Bose QC35 II integration of Google Assistant fell flat, we will be waiting in anticipation for reviews of Cortana’s use in the Surface headphones. Microsoft is smart to release their Cortana integrated Surface headphones now, as it allows them to begin breaking into what is expected to be a huge market ahead of the 2018 holiday season – according to a Juniper study last year, the hearables market will grow at a 45.6% compound annual growth rate through 2022.