Microsoft buys Wand to improve chat capabilities

The startup will be put to work on implementing Microsoft's 'conversations as a platform' push

Satya Nadella wasn't kidding when he said earlier this year that he believed in using chat as a platform for computing. Microsoft just bought Wand, a chat app for iOS, to further that vision.

The Wand team will be joining Bing's engineering and platform group, Corporate Vice President David Ku wrote in a post announcing the deal Thursday. The company's team members will be working primarily on Microsoft's push to enable the creation of intelligent chatbots and virtual assistants.

It's a natural fit for Wand, which had been working since 2013 on apps that let users chat with one another and add outside information from sources like Yelp. Users could share music and let other people access their smart home devices using Wand, too.

The company had conducted private trials of its service but hadn't released it broadly to consumers.

Wand's features fit well with Microsoft's overall vision for conversational interaction between humans and computers. At the Microsoft's Build conference earlier this year, company executives showed off a vision of humans interacting with bots representing businesses in order to complete tasks like booking a hotel room.

Ku called out the Wand team's expertise on a variety of topics, including third-party developer integration, semantics, and conversational interfaces, as reasons for the company to join Microsoft.

The Wand service will be shut down, CEO Vishal Sharma, a Google veteran, said in a blog post announcing the company's acquisition. However, the acquisition means it's likely some of the ideas and technology behind Wand will likely be making the transition to Microsoft.

This is Microsoft's second announced acquisition this week, coming on the heels of plans revealed Monday to buy LinkedIn in a deal worth more than US$26 billion. Under Nadella's leadership, Microsoft has made a slew of acquisitions leading to some significant changes. For example, the purchase of Acompli last year translated into a new Outlook app for iOS and Android.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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