Microsoft Patents a Smart Speaker That Could Revive Cortana at Home
Microsoft may be developing a smart speaker of its own, based on a recently filed patent. Microsoft launching a branded smart speaker would be a surprise as the company has shifted its Cortana voice assistant from consumer to enterprise purposes. Still, the device could play a part in the company’s efforts to extend its Surface brand into more audio-based devices.
The Smart Speaker System with Microphone Room Calibration patent describes a fairly standard smart speaker, with internet access, Bluetooth, and six microphones connecting to a built-in voice assistant to go with the audio playing hardware. The drawings confirm that it looks a lot like a smaller version of the Amazon Echo or Google Nest smart speakers. The one big hardware difference appears to be the electronic eyes that can light up and scan a room. Other details are left vague, such as any name for the device, how much it would perform locally or using the cloud, and what voice assistants it might support.
Microsoft hasn’t had its own smart speaker before. The Harmon Kardon Invoke smart speaker supported Cortana, as did a few other smart home devices, all of which no longer include Microsoft’s voice assistant. That’s part of Microsoft’s winding down of Cortana for consumers, including in devices and as an independent iOS and Android app. The only remnant is in the U.S., where the app is part of Microsoft’s Surface Headphones support. Cortana is now integrating into other Microsoft services such as Teams and Outlook, all part of the Office 365 system that Microsoft is encouraging businesses to use.
The move to enterprise doesn’t preclude a new smart speaker, of course. Cortana isn’t gone and has been reimagined in Windows 10 as an app within the operating system. The new Surface Book 3 laptop is a lot like smart displays in its own right, with two far-field studio microphones. Those high-end microphones can hear and understand speech as well as any standard smart speaker, not to mention parsing language better and from farther away than the previous iteration of the laptop. The microphone array on the top of the smart speaker in the patent could act as an extension of one of those laptops, adjusting its six microphones to fit an office environment. Presumably, they would be used when not everyone has the $250 (now $200) Microsoft Surface Earbuds with their direct compatibility with Office 365 via Cortana.
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