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There’s a new entrant into the smart speaker space. Microsoft. They skipped the popular path of producing the hardware internally and have instead decided to work with Harmon Kardon. The result is the recently launched Invoke speaker, the first smart speaker based on Microsoft’s voice assistant, Cortana.

Hardware is hard

The speaker is comparable to its competitors, the Echo family, the Home/Mini, the HomePod, and the Sonos One in terms of hardware quality and Voice AI. With higher quality speaker hardware and a higher price point than the Amazon Echo, but lower than the Apple HomePod, the Invoke speaker is priced in the same high-middle point as the Sonos One.

Price Range of Voice Devices

Speaker quality

Music is a popular use case for smart speakers, making speaker quality a competitive variable for all voice devices. For example, the new Echo, now $99, has a notably improved sound system over the original Echo released over two years ago.

Voice and your default Ecosystem

If you are already largely using Outlook, Microsoft 10, and other products in the Microsoft ecosystem, this Cortana speaker works best because it uses the tools you use. The Harman Kardon Invoke can play well inside the Microsoft ecosystem.

The emphasis on ecosystem functionality signals a trend in voice assistants. It goes without saying that users who live, work and play inside a Google ecosystem will initially get the most benefit from Google Home. Utility, in this new frontier of voice assistants, rules the day.

IMAGE via Brett Jordan/Wikimedia Commons


Just like in the PC vs Mac “wars” of the early aughts, the one principle that could cause the walls of these ecosystems to come tumbling down is design. In terms of external design, smart speakers are all sleek, simple, not exactly artful, but certainly not ugly monstrosities either.

The real design differentiator for each of these voice assistant ecosystems won’t be external. It will be internal. The differentiator that will draw a Google Home household, for example, towards another ecosystem outside of Google is voice design. What matters is how well-designed the user experiences are, how useful and delightful the family of third-party apps are, how discoverable new skills are, and how easy it is to integrate overall into all aspects of a user’s life.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

Once voice assistants start seriously applying design thinking to separate themselves from the pack, what follows will be an exponential jump in quality, in value and in market share.

Mark Webster

Founder and CEO of Sayspring. Designer. Developer. Follow me on Twitter at @markcwebster.