Why Microsoft is waving the magic Wand

Another Microsoft acquisition is almost as interesting as the one from earlier this week.

microsoft ceo satya nadella

Satya Nadella speaks at Microsoft's Build developer conference in San Francisco on March 30, 2016.

Credit: Blair Hanley Frank

Fresh off the news that Microsoft is purchasing LinkedIn for $26.2B, the famed Redmond monolith has announced they are also snapping up the so-called Facebook of Things company Wand Labs. It’s a move that makes perfect sense if you have ever used a smartphone and installed more than a handful of apps.

Things are getting a bit out of control, especially with apps that control devices in your home like a sprinkler system or the front door lock. Each one is a small island in a vast ocean, and they don’t really communicate with each other. It’s one reason there’s been a rise of voice-activated assistants and chatbots. There’s too much clutter.

Wand is still in development so I can’t give you a firsthand account from testing out their app, but from all of the presentations and materials they have online, it looks a bit like a dashboard. Let’s say you have Spotify on your phone and you start a chat with the Wand messaging client. You can then grant access to your friend to be able to listen to the same tunes. The advantage is that your friend doesn’t even need a Spotify account to listen. If you’re chatting about a party that night, you could also provide a login to the door lock using the Vivint app. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, for this to work, third party developers need to partner with Wand, and that’s where Microsoft can really help. The app may never see the light of day, but we could see the app integration in something like Bing or the Cortana app. The term “Facebook of Things” is a nod to the idea that we are all trying to simplify by using chat. Think about it this way. When you need to discuss an event or make plans for the weekend, few of us jump into an app. We just text our brother-in-law and start discussing what to do. In the same way, messaging apps will be used for conversational interfaces. You could be discussing music, movies, or your yard and decide to trigger an event or provide access to a friend to trigger an event.

Take this a step further if it involves robotic tech and AI. Eventually, conversational interfaces will involve way more automations. You might be talking about the rain, and the chatbot in the messaging app or in Bing might ask if you want to delay watering. You could be talking about going a movie, and a bot could remind you about a stream you never finished. Bots could become part of the conversation, but for that to happen, apps like Iris (for controlling the sprinklers) and Netflix (for watching the movie) would need to be integrated.

The Facebook of Things really means social interaction and technology intersecting in a way that is so fluid we barely notice. It’s just part of our everyday chat, another thread in the discussion, a text post that looks like Twitter but has way more power.

I’m excited to see what Microsoft comes up with, maybe even as much as what they will do when they pump more fuel into the LinkedIn engine. Apps are on overload right now. The combination of chatbots, robotic tech, messaging, and third-party integration could be a big win for a company that seems so stuck in the world of desktop operating systems. However, before this all comes together, apps like Cortana and Bing need to provide more value on their own before they start integrating with Spotify.

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