Blog: Search vs. Digital Assistant: A Great Opportunity for Microsoft
On April 9, Microsoft released the first beta version of Chromium-based Edge browser to the public.
This is a great example of the fundamental change Satya Nadella made to the company culture, and I really admire his leadership as a former Microsoft employee as well as a current shareholder (Disclaimer: I am a long-term shareholder of MSFT as well as GOOG, AAPL, AMZN and FB).
While this is a great move, I think there is one additional move Microsoft should make beyond attempting to reclaim the default browser position and taking the default search engine position from Google.
Microsoft needs to invest heavily on non-voice, text-based digital assistance of Windows Operating System, Windows Digital Assistant.
In order to underhand this logic, Microsoft needs to pay attention to what Apple was originally trying to do with Siri and what went wrong.
At the beginning, it was very clear what Apple was trying to do. Apple wanted to turn Siri into the default digital assistant for iPhone users to get any information from the web — direction to restaurants, sports score, news, and etc.
This is why I was had a very high expectation to Seri, not because it has a voice-based interface, but because it knows me and could really “assist” me, providing a way more value than a simple search engine.
When I say “Mariners”, my assistance should know that it meant “Seattle Mariners”, and I am interested in the result of the game yesterday, their standing, and their game schedule, not their web site, the Wikipedia page or any advertisement associated with Mariners.
When I say “Trump”, my assistance should know that it meant “Donald Trump, I have some concerns about his role as a president, and I am interested in his recent Tweets and significant news related to him, not the web site of The Trump Organization or his Wikipedia page.
Both companies are moving toward that direction (see the screenshots below), but the move is very slow and inconsistent because of a conflict of interest — the advertisement revenue.
According to Goldman Sachs analyst Rod Hall, Apple’s services revenue growth heavily relies on the traffic acquisition revenue from Google.
Apple generated $39.5 billion in services revenue in calendar 2018. Google’s $9.4 billion in traffic acquisition costs paid to Apple accounted for nearly 25% of that revenue.
It means more direct answers from Siri; less revenue from Google. This situation makes it difficult for Apple to Siri into a real assistant that gives direct answers to user’s question before redirecting the traffic to Google.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has nothing to lose.
That’s why I think Microsoft should heavily invest on its digital assistance (there is a reason why I don’t want to call it “Cortana”. I will explain it below), so that it become the de facto tool for Windows users to get information from the Internet, knowing the user and understanding the context — before seeing the search result from Google or Bing.
I don’t want to call it Cortana because Cortana is a voice assistance, just like Siri and Alexa.
The voice interface will play an important role for smart speakers, smart headphones and even AR glasses, but it will never become the primary interface for Smartphones or Desktop PCs.
Microsoft needs to drop the ego of building a better voice assistance than Siri or Alexa (just like dropping the ego of a building better HTML5 engine than Google).
Instead, it should focus on a text-based digital assistance of Windows operating system and attempt to steal the “primary assistance role” from Google search engine.
It won’t be easy to change people’s behavior (typing some words on the browser’s address bar), but I think it’s quite possible if Microsoft makes a real commitment to provide significant value to Windows users — not trying to make money from advertisement but really focusing on user scenarios and needs.
Microsoft has one advantage. People are more and more aware that Google and Facebook are making money from personal information. This makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. As the result, people trust Microsoft and Apple than Google and Facebook.
Microsoft should take a full advantage of its position and turn Windows Digital Assistant into a gate keeper to protect personal information from the Internet, getting answers to users’ questions from the Internet without disclosing their identities or personal information (unless the user explicitly chose to “search the web”).