Big news was announced this week for Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant built into Windows 10 and the XBox One. Microsoft claims there are now 145 million people using Cortana. There were two parts of the news.
First, Microsoft announced the Cortana Skills Kit. It allows third party software developers to extend Cortana. It works through the leverage of the Microsoft Bot Framework, so it seems to be that works on top of some effort Microsoft has already completed.
The announcement is careful to report that there will be a way to "repurpose code from existing Alexa skills to create Cortana skills." This SDK is still in private beta and not widely available. You can sign up to receive update information. This SDK is targeted to be made available to all developers in February 2017.
Microsoft announced a Cortana Devices SDK which is for original equipment manufacturers (OEM's) to create their own voice assistants. It is in private beta now and is going to be opened up more broadly in 2017. There is no indication of the cost for licensing the technology.
Microsoft also announced a partnership with Harman Kardon to create a stand along voice assistant which is "coming in 2017."
Harman Kardon makes some really high end, quality gear. So, it will be interesting to see how this device falls in-line with other stand alone voice assistants like the Amazon Echo, Dot or Google Home. I want to see this when it is out, but of course a device that is still up to a year away to being released can't be relied very much as to how well it will work. No mention was made of any special noice canceling microphone technology, which is one of the big ideas that makes the Echo class of devices so amazing.
If you would like to checkout Cortana on your own, you don't need Windows 10 or an XBox One! Did you know there is both an iOS and Android app for Cortana? Get them on your phone from these links provided. You do need a microsoft account to sign-in. But, once you are in, you get to use Cortana, just as if you were at a Windows 10 computer or an XBox One game console. You'll notice it has some interesting features, especially in the way it makes use of the output screen.
If you use Cortana on the desktop or XBox One, you might prefer to use the Cortana App over the voice assistant built into your device because Cortana might have more information about you which enables her to provide better responses to your spoken commands.
I always love to see competition from vendors, as that always makes things better for consumers. Seeing Microsoft open up Cortana to third party developers is an exciting development. Seeing how Micosoft is also opening up the platform to OEM partners makes me think we might see Cortana more and more in the future. Of course, these are efforts that the Alexa team completed months, if not years ago, and Google just released information on creating Conversation Actions, the equivalent of skills, but for the Google Assistant.