Microsoft Cortana finally had its smart speaker debut Sunday with the official launch of the Harman Kardon Invoke. The voice assistant already has 148 million monthly active users due to its strength on PCs and Xbox. In addition, to being a bit late to market with a smart speaker, Cortana has trailed Amazon and Google by a large margin in third-party voice apps called Cortana skills. Between May and August, Cortana Skills grew from just 55 to 67. During that same period Amazon Alexa skills grew from 12,293 to 17,650 and Google Assistant apps rose to 468 from 304.
Microsoft was clearly struggling to recruit third-party developers to start using the Cortana Skills Kit software development tools to build new voice apps. That situation has recently improved. Over the past 12 weeks Microsoft Cortana Skills have grow from 67 to 174. That is 160% growth.
Microsoft Has a Long Way to Go But is Making Progress
Microsoft still has a long way to go to achieve voice app parity with Google and Amazon. However, the recent boost in independent skills is a good start. Some higher profile consumer brands such as Fitbit, Dominos, Food Network, Progressive and Motley Fool have launched Cortana skills which will add more cache and utility to the platform. The presence of a Cortana-enabled smart speaker in the market should also help the company build more developer enthusiasm.
Microsoft has made it relatively easy for Alexa skill developers to port their code to Cortana. This is a good strategy to tap into the largest reservoir of existing voice apps to potentially accelerate Cortana support by developers. It is critical for Cortana to become available on more devices and enlist more independent app developers as competition for consumer loyalty intensifies. Watch for new devices incorporating Cortana and continued skill growth to gauge the health of the Cortana ecosystem.