Siri Opens Up, Apple Plays Catch Up, Microsoft Buys LinkedIn

Apple Finally Opens Siri Up (aka Apple Plays Catch-Up) and Microsoft Buys LinkedIn

This week’s big news in the tech world is Microsoft gobbles up “business network” LinkedIn for $26B in cash, and Apple holds its big World Wide Developers Conference. Let’s start with Apple.

Yesterday was Day One of WWDC, and the big announcement was that, yes, finally, Siri would be opened up for other developers to reach in and use. For the company that frequently tops lists of the world’s most innovative companies, this was a move to catch up to Amazon and Google, which are currently ahead of the game. The ultra-hot Amazon Echo, which is becoming a must-have product, is doing much better than Amazon anticipated. As I’ve said before, people are willing to give up privacy for utility, and this little device, which listens in on every conversation going on around it (if I were a conspiracy theorist, I might think that some of these feeds may be going directly to the FBI…) and supposedly provides helpful hints for living, is now spawning competitors by Google (Google Home).

What I find interesting is that Apple DID has the lead here: she was the very first ubiquitous virtual audio assistant. Apple rolled her out back in 2011 but has done very little with her since. so long ago, the original team which built her had long left Apple and is now building their successor, a much smarter (and supposedly snarkier) and much more connected assistant. (See Viv Kicks Off The Chat Bot Wars) Viv is what they originally wanted her to be – a virtual audio-based assistant, but way smarter and able to do all sorts of things outside the Apple ecosystem. Siri still plays in her own space, a closed system, which is something that Apple is famous for.

On the one hand, a closed system like Apple’s works in order to assist non-technical customers in gaining mass adoption. The concept is “Don’t worry, we’ve got it covered” The closed Apple ecosystem worked great, as long as you just wanted to do just what they wanted you to do. As long as what you wanted was within Apple’s ecosystem, everything was great. You could use her to play music, but it was just the music you’d bought through iTunes. Who cares if you had Spotify, Rhapsody, or Pandora on your phone, Siri couldn’t talk to them.

This is one of Apple’s failings, IMHO – their insistence on keeping everything closed and tied to their ecosystem until they have exhausted every last little drop of profit out of it. This is why it’s taking them so long to open up Siri; this is why Amazon and Google are beating them to the punch. Couple that with the lukewarm reception of the Apple Watch (it’s a tiny crippled iPhone for your wrist) and the iPhone 6SE (let’s go back to tiny phones when everyone wants bigger ones) and the iPad Pro ( a Surface tablet by any other name) and you see a very profitable marketing company where innovation is stalling. Where is leapfrog over the Echo and the Google Car? Let’s hope that there are more interesting announcements in the days to come; otherwise, we may start to see Apple slip off those lists of “Top Innovative Companies.”

Microsoft Buys LinkedIn

This is an interesting one. I’ve had a bit of a bone to pick with LinkedIn lately, as they have morphed from a business network into more of what I’d call a more businessy Facebook, along with feeds, Pulse, and everything else. In my mind, it has stepped away from its true core mission: to help people do business.

What is “doing business?” Helping buyers connect with sellers, whether the buyer is an employer looking for talent or a company looking to buy equipment or services. Someone with a demand, matched with someone who can provide the supply. While it’s arguably good as a job board (many of the most recent jobs I’ve had in the late 2000s, outside of that, it does not provide that essential core service of matching buyers with sellers.

When I’m on LinkedIn, I’m wary about the people who are trying to connect with me. I assume they are trying to start a sales conversation with me and therefore will not connect with them. I get the same kind of response when I attempt to contact others via LinkedIn, even if it’s not for a sales conversation. I’d say that about 90% of the people who I do contact via LinkedIn rarely use LinkedIn for communications – most times, I’ve been punted over to email to continue the conversation since they rarely check email.

What is LinkedIn’s true role? It’s not really a business network. Is it a superannuated job board? Maybe. But if that’s the case, does that justify its valuation?

If you ask me, I think LinkedIn has strayed from being a “business network” and is now more of a business-flavored social network. Even that is going away – I’ve seen all sorts of personal postings in my LI feed now as well – not as bad as Facebook, but getting there. I’d argue that I have more business conversations on Facebook since, at least there, the people I connect with don’t think I will have a sales conversation straight off.

No, LI needs to refocus on helpings its customers “do business.” To me, that means a better understanding of the buyers and sellers on its network and helping to match those sellers up. There are already a few startups in that space that provide a better and more effective matching than LI does, like Weave and Opportunity, which are not perfect, but closer to the vision I’m thinking about. LinkedIn’s massive customer base could easily dominate in this space if only it innovated there.

If we see more emphasis on helping businesses match up, they will be a force to be reckoned with. Maybe this purchase will be a good thing.