In response to the unexpected popularity of Amazon’s Alexa devices, Google felt compelled to develop Google Home. There have also been rumors about a stand-alone Apple Siri device. I’ve been waiting for a Microsoft response; apparently there already is one.
It’s called HomeHub, which has reportedly been in the works for some time. This weekend, there were a number of stories about how HomeHub would “crush” Amazon Echo and Google Home when it’s released. However, HomeHub is not hardware, it’s a new software layer on or within Windows 10.
According to Windows Central:
Home Hub isn’t a dedicated device that’s designed to take on the likes of the Amazon Echo and Google Home, as in the end, Home Hub is just the software. But that software can do everything the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices can, but with one added benefit: a screen. Home Hub is designed to run on Windows 10 PCs, mainly All-In-Ones and 2-in-1’s with touch screens, but can work on any Windows 10 machine. Pen and ink support are also part of the plan.
A key feature of this smart-home software overlay will be an always-on Cortana, which will be accessible from the lock screen. Indeed, the central strategic difference between Microsoft’s approach and Google’s, and presumably Apple’s, in taking on Echo/Alexa is that there will be a PC or tablet screen to complement the virtual assistant experience.
This could solve an number of challenges that currently exist for both users and marketers with the screenless Echo and Home (notwithstanding the smartphone app and search companion features). But it also poses challenges for Microsoft. The “PC in the kitchen” scenario has not really materialized as a mass-market phenomenon. I could imagine a lower-cost version of Surface specifically intended for virtual assistant and smart-home management functions.
Price will be a major factor. With PC sales in decline — though Surface has been a success for Microsoft — it will be extremely challenging for Microsoft to convince people to spend hundreds of dollars for another PC, no matter how seemingly utilitarian. This is especially true against the competitive backdrop of Echo’s $179 and Google Home’s $129 price tags.
Until something more concrete makes its appearance, however, this is all speculation. Yet it makes sense that Microsoft, which has long aspired to be the brain of the smart home, would respond to the rise of Echo and Google Home, which directly threaten that role. Amazon announced last week that over Black Friday weekend it sold millions of Alexa-powered units.
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