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With Cortana Speaker, Microsoft Is Again Late to the Party

Imagine an Amazon Echo with stellar sound quality that wasn't primarily intended to sell you stuff you don't need. Or a Google Home that wasn't tied to your frighteningly detailed online dossier on the gargantuan company's servers.

OpinionsThat's what the Microsoft Cortana-powered Harman Kardon Invoke promises to be, but most people will probably never hear about it, let alone purchase one.

Amazon seems to be a little scared of competition to its market-leading AI, voice-enabled digital assistant. It revealed the touch-screen Echo Show—and an accompanying ad blitz—on the same day the Harman Kardon Invoke debuted.

Harman Kardon Invoke with Cortana

But Amazon can probably relax. A similar marketing campaign from Microsoft is unlikely; it has continually dropped the ball on promoting new product categories.

The most notable case is Windows Phone, a mobile OS with at least two unique capabilities: face login and the ability to effectively power a full-size PC. But I can't recall seeing a single ad for the flagship Lumia 950 on which I'm voice dictating this article.

Another Redmond advertising fail was the excellent Microsoft Band health monitor, which offered a unique set of sensors, including a barometer, to gauge altitude changes. Of course, if the market-leading Fitbit can't make money from fitness trackers, perhaps Microsoft was wise to exit an unprofitable category.

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And while the Invoke does not include a display, Cortana would be perfectly suited to an Echo Show-like device. The latest version of Cortana for PC even goes full screen so you can read it across a room.

Amazon has a huge advantage in the voice-activated digital assistant category, but Cortana is preinstalled on more than 400 million Windows devices and has 140 million monthly users. Compare that with approximately 10 million Alexa devices sold.

But as with smartphones and so many other categories, it may just be too late for Microsoft to compete with the other smart speakers and digital assistants. The Harman Kardon Invoke won't ship until the fall, by which time the various flavors of Echo may be resounding unchallenged throughout the land.

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