Harman Kardon Invoke Ends Microsoft Cortana Smart Speaker Support
Harmon Kardon is removing the Microsoft Cortana voice assistant from its Invoke smart speaker this week, completing the process Microsoft has been building toward since last year. The update will essentially remove the ‘smart’ and leave a Bluetooth speaker without any innate AI to control it.
The Invoke was the only smart speaker to have Cortana as its native voice assistant. Microsoft’s decision to shift Cortana from an independent consumer voice assistant to a feature built into other programs and with more of an enterprise focus spelled doom for the Invoke arguably as far back as 2018, but the update from Harmon Kardon marks the official conclusion of Cortana’s earlier phase. The Invoke update released this week renders the Invoke a simple speaker. The firmware is only available until the end of June, according to Harmon Kardon, although the technical end of Cortana service is July 31. To partially make up for Cortana’s departure, Microsoft is offering a $50 gift card to Invoke owners.
“After careful consideration, Microsoft has decided to end support for the Cortana integration in the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker in January 2021,” an FAQ on Harmon Kardon’s support page explains. “Microsoft has worked closely with Harman Kardon to create a device transition plan that will help ease the impact this has on some of our customers. As Microsoft shifts Cortana to a more productivity focused transformational AI-powered assistant experience in Microsoft 365, Microsoft needs to shift areas of innovation and development to provide customers the best possible experiences. Part of this shift involves rethinking Cortana’s integration within the Harman Kardon Invoke, where Microsoft noticed few users engage in the productivity tasks that Cortana is focused on.”
Cortana has been popping up in plenty of other settings despite its failure as a smart speaker assistant. Microsoft recently added new voice AI features to its iOS mobile apps using Cortana, for instance. All of the new abilities updates are part of Cortana’s reintroduction through Microsoft 365 products. Microsoft Outlook has integrated Cortana, letting users set up and confirm meetings by voice, and is a key element of the Teams platform. Cortana hasn’t totally vanished from devices either. The voice assistant runs the new Microsoft Surface Hub and Lenovo ThinkSmart View touchscreen computers. Though specialized around using Teams, the devices share similarities with Microsoft’s latest laptops, which can perform as voice-controlled smart displays. After almost three years since Microsoft launched the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise, these integrations show how far Cortana has evolved. The Invoke is a relic of that earlier time, though one that seemed to hold a lot of promise.
“Microsoft greatly values our customers, and this was a tough decision they did not take lightly,” the announcement adds. “Microsoft is excited for what the future holds for Cortana and all the productivity assistance it will provide its customers in the future through deeper integration within Microsoft 365 tools and services, and have taken steps to minimize the inconvenience to active users.”