Prominent Microsoft exec Panos Panay made it clear just the other day that there was no Surface Pro 5 planned for a Build preview in Seattle this week. Or a Shanghai launch later in May, or at any other US or global event in the foreseeable future.

That dramatically reduced excitement surrounding the Redmond-based tech giant’s Developer Conference, but we’re now hearing some pretty exciting things on Cortana’s expansion and evolution to make up for the lack of new hardware.

Microsoft Build 2017 has kicked off with a rather predictable but still enticing announcement of more Amazon Echo rivals. HP will join Harman Kardon soon enough in getting Cortana to control smart home devices, living room entertainment and even hands-free Skype calling.

Intel is in charge of creating “reference platforms” various OEMs should then be able to tweak and adopt as their own, but unfortunately, we don’t know anything else about the semiconductor company or HP’s specific smart speaker plans. No projected price points, no commercial release dates and especially no word on touchscreens, cameras or other “premium” add-ons.

What we’re certain of is Microsoft’s commitment to wipe the floor with Alexa. Cortana is already used by a whopping 141 million people worldwide every month, be it through voice, text or notifications, and the digital assistant’s Skills Kit, privately available to select developers since December, is moving into a public preview program anyone can join.

The idea is to enrich Cortana’s capabilities with the help of the masses, and it looks fairly easy to build a new “skill” from scratch, as well as adapt existing ones for Alexa to support the rival platform. Let the AI games… continue!

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