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No one is going to use Microsoft’s answer to the Amazon Echo

Published Dec 5th, 2016 8:32PM EST
Microsoft Amazon Echo Competitor
Image: Microsoft

The Amazon Echo, a $200 device that sits on your kitchen counter and silently judges everything you say, has been a surprise hit with consumers. Google has rushed its own version to market, Apple is said to be working on something similar, and now it looks like Microsoft is going to half-heartedly join the fray.

According to Windows Central, Microsoft is working on an update that will give any Windows PC the always-listening, schedule planning, home-controlling capabilities of Echo and Alexa. It sounds like a nice idea on paper, but in the real world, I guarantee it will suck.

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As Windows Central explains, “Home Hub is a Windows 10 feature designed to make your PC the center of your home, by making shared PCs more communal and bringing the connected home to Windows.” In real speak, that means Home Hub is a slew of software updates that will add a “Welcome Screen” to Windows that acts like a “virtual fridge door,” showing to-do lists, calendar events and sticky notes. Cortana will always be listening to respond to commands, and she’ll also get the ability to control smart home devices like Nest or Hue, just like the Echo.

According to the report, Microsoft thinks Home Hub PCs will be the center of the family, with a special new “family account” that anyone can log into. It’s meant to live on a kitchen counter or somewhere convenient, so everyone will use it as a replacement for a family calendar or to-do notes on the fridge.

It’s a nice idea, but I almost guarantee it will fail for a list of reasons. Specifically:

  • Desktop PCs are already dying as everyone moves to laptops. No family wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a Windows PC that’s a replacement for $5 of fridge magnets.
  • Microsoft apparently envisages its hardware partners building “Home Hub PCs.” These will probably look like glorified all-in-ones with small screens and cute, colorful plastic cases. They’ll also cost a minimum of $300, which is a hard sell when the cheapest Echo hardware is $30.
  • People don’t want a PC sitting in their kitchen. Amazon Echo and Google Home are designed to look like unobtrusive Bluetooth speakers for a reason: having a gigantic touchscreen gadget sitting on your kitchen counter is not good interior design.
  • The magic of Alexa and the Google Assistant is the deep integration into your music services and smart home. If people want calendar appointments, they’ll probably ask the assistant on their phone.

All these reasons also assume that Microsoft manages to deliver this product on time, without a bunch of strange bugs, and before the trend for in-home personal assistants has been wiped out by brain implants or something. Let’s just hope that Home Hub is an optional software upgrade, for once.