Microsoft's Cortana gets a body and a very particular set of skills

The job opening to be your AI assistant is growing increasingly competitive. Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung are all vying for that position by offering convenient, natural-language-based responses to queries and commands. Microsoft is now following in Amazon's footsteps in a couple ways. The company is partnering with Harman/Kardon for its Cortana-powered Invoke speaker, and it's also opening its AI platform to software developers with the Cortana Skills Kit.

MS previewed the Cortana Skills Kit at its Build conference earlier today and showed an initial collection of 46 skill partners, including Domino's Pizza, Dark Sky, and OpenTable. According to Engadget, developers will be able to convert skills from Alexa or Microsoft's Bot framework—or develop new skills entirely from scratch, naturally. Cortana will also be aware of what type of device it's in—a home speaker, a car, or a computer—and provide contextually-relevant assistance and information.

Microsoft is also moving on the hardware front but not yet by its own hand. The company showed off the the Harman Kardon Invoke, a Wi-Fi speaker with Cortana inside. The Invoke is the first in a planned family of devices developed with third-party manufacturers. Engadget reports that HP will also be joining that party, and that Intel will "develop reference designs for the AI assistant."

Amazon has a good head-start in the hardware department and third-party skills development with its popular and expanding line of Echo devices. This technology is still fairly new, though, so only time will tell how it'll play out in the market.

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