At its “A moment of your time” event in New York City today, Microsoft unveiled wireless Surface Headphones with Cortana built in. While the Surface Laptop 2 and Surface Pro 6 also announced at the event can be preordered today, Microsoft wouldn’t share an exact date for when to expect Surface Headphones.
We do have a price tag, however: $350. And we know the product will be coming later this year, limited to the U.S.
Panos Panay, head of engineering for all of Microsoft’s devices, did say the Surface Headphones come with 13 levels of active noise cancelling, 40mm FreeEdge drivers, and 15 hours of battery life. Panay showed off how the user can adjust the level of noise cancellation by turning the left ear cup like a dial and adjust the volume by turning the right ear cup, but he didn’t highlight any other features.
We also know that the Surface Headphones include two beam-forming microphones on each ear cup and eight microphones in total. Microsoft says Surface Headphones are optimized for Surface devices, but they will pair with any Bluetooth-enabled device. Most importantly, the built-in Cortana can be activated by saying “Hey Cortana.”
I played with the Surface Headphones briefly and learned that you can also activate Cortana by long-pressing either of the headphone cups. Other gestures work as you might expect: one tap to play/pause (or take/end a call) and two taps to go to the next song. Microsoft will be updating the Cortana app for Android, iOS, and of course Windows 10 with Surface Headphones functionality — the units in the showroom were running an unreleased beta version.
Cortana is the latest AI assistant to be incorporated into headphones.
The Alexa mobile accessory kit is being used to put Alexa in headphones, Google Assistant is available in Pixel Buds and headphones from Bose and JBL, and Apple is reportedly planning to release AirPods 2 with hands-free “Hey Siri” support and a new wireless chip.
Businesses and Cortana
If it seems like Surface Headphones are coming out of left field, keep in mind that Microsoft has been making accessories for longer than it has computers. And with the Surface line, the company has started offering products like the Surface Keyboard and the Surface Mouse.
The enterprise angle should also be taken into account. Just last month, the company announced that Microsoft Teams is now used by 329,000 organizations, making it the company’s fastest-growing business app ever. Indeed, these Surface headphones are likely to be pushed for use with business apps like Microsoft Teams.
But really, this is Microsoft’s way of trying to keep Cortana alive with new hardware. The company knows it needs more than Cortana on Windows 10 PCs if the assistant is going to stay relevant alongside the likes of Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. We’re not convinced Surface Headphones will do the trick, but we’re willing to give them a shot once they become available, which will be in time for the holiday season.