Microsoft revealed this morning in a blog post that the Cortana-enabled Harman Karon Invoke will go on sale this Sunday, October 22nd. Consistent with Voicebot’s previous reporting, Invoke will sell for $199.99 and come in two colors, Pearl Silver and Graphite. It will be available for purchase online in the Microsoft Store and at HarmanKardon.com and will also be in Best Buy stores.
Invoke Enters a Crowded Smart Speaker Market
Invoke was originally announced in late 2016 and was previewed earlier in 2017 at Microsoft’s annual developer conference. Since that time, the market for smart speakers promising high quality sound has become crowded with announcements from Apple, Google, Sonos, Sony, Pioneer and even Harman Kardon itself. Invoke will beat all others to market coming just two days before the public availability of the new Sonos One on October 24th. Sonos One includes Amazon Alexa as its voice assistant. Google Home Max and the Apple HomePod aren’t expected to be available until early December. Bose is also in the market for high end audio with a voice assistant, recently shipping headphones that included Google Assistant integration.
It looks like Google and Amazon will dominate the lower-priced “value” segment of the smart speaker market in 2017 and the audiophile segment will have many options to choose from. A recent report from Strategy Analytics forecasted that 24 million smart speakers will ship globally in 2017, 12 million sold in Q4 alone. That research concludes Amazon and Google will command 71.3% and 14.7% market share respectively with 14% of the market divided among other device manufacturers. Harman Kardon Invoke is going after that 14% of unit sales which will account for 3.36 million devices.
The Only Smart Speaker with Cortana and Skype
A key differentiator for Invoke is Cortana. It will be the only smart speaker at any price with Microsoft’s voice assistant onboard. That could make a big difference as the others all include Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant and try to differentiate the devices based on sound quality alone. It will be interesting to see Harman Kardon’s promotion strategy given that it is the only manufacturer to offer devices that separately support each of the three leading voice assistants today.
Cortana is widely used and touts 148 million monthly active users across windows devices such as laptops, PCs and tablets. The integration with Office 365 will clearly be a selling point even if Invoke is primarily positioned as a home-based device. Invoke is also the only smart speaker with Skype integration. The Microsoft announcement states:
You can easily stay connected with hands-free calling to your Skype and phone contacts, as well as local businesses. In addition to Skype to Skype calling, which will always be free, Invoke also features unlimited free outbound calling from the United States to mobile phones and landlines in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Guam.
Calling is a key feature that not all smart speakers will have. Amazon Echo and Google Home now include free calling in North America and Invoke’s Skype is matching that feature. However, Skype goes a step further enabling free Skype to Skype calls. That presumably means that you will be able to use Invoke to call directly to your Skype contacts worldwide. That might be enough for Cortana and Invoke to stand out with holiday shoppers this year.