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Washington - Microsoft  has partnered with audio equipment maker Harman Kardon to put the tech giant's voice-activated assistant, Cortana, into a smart speaker of its very own. The Invoke, as the speaker is called, will allow its owners to use the speaker like a phone, by using Microsoft's Skype.

It will also have features similar to its competitors, such as the ability to control smart appliances and tell users what the traffic conditions are like on their commutes, what the latest news is and what their schedules look like that day.

The move positions Microsoft into direct competition with Amazon's Echo speakers and the Google Home - both smart speakers that are designed to act as a "home hub" for smart devices and digital information.

Microsoft hasn't announced a smart speaker that it makes itself, but appears to be partnering with other firms to create gadgets dedicated to its voice assistant. Amazon's Alexa assistant, which powers its Echo speakers, has also made the jump to other gadgets through partnerships with other companies; Google is expected to do the same with its assistant.

Read also: Who wants multiple iPhone personalities? 

Analysts have pointed to home hubs and voice assistants as a major next battleground for tech companies, as the firms look to permeate even more aspects of consumer's lives. A home hub is placed to anchor a larger web of devices ranging from light bulbs to - possibly - vehicles that can be activated by voice and tap into a central bank of data that can be used to run consumer's lives.

Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung have all introduced their own named voice assistants.Microsoft first introduced Cortana in 2013; it originally worked on Windows PCs and Windows Phone. The company also released apps that allow the assistant to work on Android and iOS devices, but this is the first time the software has shown up in its own, dedicated device.

The fight for dominance in the home hub space is expected to become even fiercer soon. Apple is also rumoured to be making a similar device for its own Siri digital assistant, according to a recent note from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. [Kuo put the chances of an Apple device at more than 50 percent, according to a report from MacRumors].

Harman Kardon - a division of Samsung Electronics subsidiary Harman said the Invoke speaker will be available in the fall at Microsoft stores and unspecified "select retail partners." It has not yet released a price for the speaker.

WASHINGTON POST