In the "Halo" video games, Master Chief's AI companion Cortana can interface with just about any piece of technology and unlock its mysteries. Cortana for Windows Phone 8.1 will soon be able to accomplish similar feats by linking voice commands and the Insteon line of smart home products.
Insteon announced the new partnership today (Jul. 16), which will affect the two companies' products within the next few months. Microsoft stores recently began stocking Insteon smart home tech, so savvy users expected that some collaboration might be brewing between the two.
Cortana is essentially Microsoft's answer to Siri: a simple female AI that accepts user commands and replies to queries. As such, she can respond to conversational phrases rather than just specific keywords. Asking her to "turn on movie time," for example, could dim a room, while "turn off all the lights" would make it pitch-black.
Using Cortana to control smart home tech is not easier in every instance, but freeing up a user's hands is always useful. This way, a user can ask Cortana to turn on a house's air conditioning while driving home, or have her lock a door while clinging to a subway pole.
As Insteon devices rely on radio frequencies and hard-wiring rather than Wi-Fi, they tend to be a bit more difficult to install than their competitors. That said, they are also much harder to hack; smart home devices that use ZigBee and Z-Wave protocols often have gaping security holes with no patches in sight.
Users won't know for sure how well Insteon and Cortana work together until the functionality is available, but the concept is sound enough. A unified smart home system rather than a host of separate apps could make the prospect of a connected household more appealing to everyday consumers.