Microsoft has announced it is acquiring natural language and AI messaging startup Wand Labs as part of a larger strategy to build out "conversation as a platform" (via TechCrunch).

Founded in 2013 by former Google staffer Vishal Sharma, Wand Labs' stated aim is "to tear down app walls, integrate your services in chat, and make them work together so you can do more with less taps".

Wand Labs
Previously, Wand apps focused on using conversational interfaces to allow users to perform collaborative tasks, such as enabling a friend to control a Nest thermostat, for example. (All Wand apps have been removed from the App Store since the announcement.)

"I'm proud of the work my team has done and what we've already accomplished in this emerging space," said Sharma in a statement on the Wand Labs website. "I'm delighted to be joining a company that shares our passion and enthusiasm for this new era where conversation is the central focus. Making experiences for customers more seamless by harnessing human language is a powerful vision and one that motivates me and my team."

The terms of the buyout have not been disclosed, but the fledgling Silicon Valley startup has just seven employees – a world away from Microsoft's recent $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, which has 9,700 full-time employees with offices in 30 cities around the world.

The two deals are likely related, however, as Microsoft appears to be maneuvering significant investment in the direction of conversational chat bot services backed by big data, natural language processing, and predictive analytics.

Wand employees are expected to be integrated into Microsoft's Bing and Cortana teams, as the company follows a larger tech trend towards an era of conversational AI services and virtual messaging assistants.

Introducing chatbots into popular messaging apps are becoming more and more popular, with platforms like Kik and Skype gaining bot features to provide users with interactive chat logs that provide information on the weather, entertainment, or world news.

Facebook recently introduced chatbots to Messenger, and provided developers with toolkits to create third-party customer service chatbots and live chat APIs.

In the smart home sector, similar moves are aiming to make virtual assistants more intelligent at performing tasks and more responsive to specific queries, such as Amazon Echo's recent "skills" upgrade, which enables its Alexa assistant to integrate with over 1,000 third-party apps.

Google recently announced its Echo rival, Home, while Apple is also rumored to be working on a similar, Siri-based device for the home.

Apple has reportedly been working on its rival device since before the Amazon Echo debuted in November 2014. Google Home will be available later this year, but it is not known when Apple will be ready to debut its home accessory or how it will fit into the company's existing product lineup.

In a related move, Apple announced this week that it would open Siri up to third-party developers with a public API, allowing users to summon Apple's personal assistant AI to access third-party services and apps hands-free, opening the door to a potential smart home assistant with enhanced functionality and contextual awareness.

In October 2015, Apple acquired VocalIQ, a UK-based startup that had spent the last 10 years researching natural language, belief tracking, decision making, and message generation, in an attempt to develop a next-generation natural language API.

It's early days, but Apple may introduce the API in its Echo competitor because of its ability to go beyond the "session-based" contextual responses touted by the likes of Viv.

Top Rated Comments

maflynn Avatar
64 months ago
So, Microsoft is left with a vision of the future when they could eventually be relevant again (AI bots). That's why their recent moves look so odd and desperate.
I think MS is in a really good position, their services are robust, and growing, they're making a lot of money on Office365, and the Linkedin purchase, caught Google flat footed (who's social media attempts have all failed).

Apple indeed is on the top for smartphones, but how much longer can they rely on idevice sales, when the competition is working hard at their own strategy?
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
maflynn Avatar
64 months ago
If AI chat 'bots' are the future I want no part of it. Talk about a gimmick.
Its not a gimmick and as these bots get more robust, they become more helpful. Just look at Google Now vs. Cortana vs. Siri. The latter is the least robust, and Google, MS have a feature rich product that puts apple to shame.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
djcerla Avatar
64 months ago

how much longer can they rely on idevice sales, when the competition is working hard at their own strategy?
Said about Apple since 1984, and always proved wrong.

Take a look at Apple's service revenues: they're booming, bigger than the Mac. This is the result of Apple's own strategy.

The difference is that competitors publish roadmaps, vaporware, etc to wow analysts, whereas Apple works mostly in secret. And their resources far, far outstrip anyone elses's.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Stella Avatar
64 months ago
Apple is NOT consumer only by any stretch of imagination. They have huge sales to enterprises and partnerships with IBM and Cisco. Apple DOMINATES enterprise actually.
OK, they have some partnerships, recently, related to mobile.


Microsoft is not "extremely relevant". They have no foot in mobile, which is almost unbelievable. Cloud? Quickly commodizing. AI? Show us something other than a hacked Twitter bot and vaporware, then we can evaluate it.
You seem to be forgetting about the business that aren't so consumer facing. Microsoft too have many partnerships with other companies - more than Apple, probably.

What about government contracts around that world that include education, military, administration to provide software and services.

Microsoft's office products are still highly used, as Windows of course.

Yes, I'd say microsoft were still "extremely" relevant in the world today.

Cloud - Azure is doing OK - Microsoft's own platform on which they also host their own software, similar to iCloud and more functional. Oh wait.. iCloud doesn't run on Apple's own infrastructure does it?
Entertainment - Well, Xbox - very popular.
AI - microsoft have an AI group - http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/groups/ai/
Also - AI - There is Cortana - for consumer facing.

Given, the areas that Microsoft do business - you still think microsoft are not relevant in the world today?
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
niun Avatar
64 months ago
Microsoft isn't going to disappear and they are trying to transform into a services company. What I am saying is Microsoft is becoming irrelevant in the consumer space. Enterprise they have locked up for now, but how long until someone blind sides them in that space?

You seem to forget that Microsoft had mobile and tablets before Google an Apple. Microsoft lacked vision and focus which resulted in there current predicament. X-Box is losing to the PS4 because once again Microsoft decided to get cute and focus on living room features versus gaming, You see the trend there? Microsoft currently tries to copy Apple every chance it can get because it has an identity crisis. Yes, I said it! Windows Store, SurfaceBook, Cortana, and many more.
MS tries to copy Apple!!
Really.? BS.

Its Apple that are having to find ways of iOS and macOS to play nice and I've been using Cortana on my Surface for a while.

MS are taking chances. Actually really exciting ones that are maybe a decade away from being the next big thing. Maybe. But taking that chance takes balls, ideas and innovation.

Apple have caught up with emojis and stickers and Siri.

How long before iPhones become dull and Apple lose that cash cow?

Oh. It already happened.


Oh I should point out that my move to windows was born out of frustration at Apple not getting their ***** together years ago.
The transition was painless.

[doublepost=1466200337][/doublepost]

Uh, does anyone like LinkedIn either? They're even crappier than MS. All they do is spam everyone with emails about people's bogus profiles, like Facebook but pretending to be something better.
Actually this is interesting. I deleted my linkedIn account due to spamming. However the spam was due to desperation on linkedIn's part.
With the massive cash cow of MS behind them they will be able to focus on whatever it is they do, according to friends of mine it's huge in the professional market - I know professional is a forgotten word in the Apple world.

So, who knows. Could end badly, could be interesting.
Whatever happens I doubt I'll be back. Removing myself from any and all social networks has made the past 8 years pretty awesome.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
yaxomoxay Avatar
64 months ago
If AI chat 'bots' are the future I want no part of it. Talk about a gimmick.
It's not a gimmick. It's support 24 hours a day, without wait time, 7 days a week.
[doublepost=1466164510][/doublepost]Microsoft is placing itself very well. Buying LinkedIn was a stroke of genius.
Microsoft only problem is how much Windows sucks.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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