Salesforce partners with Apple to roll deeper into mobile enterprise markets

Apple and Salesforce are both highly successful, iconic brands, who like to put on a big show when they make product announcements. Today, the two companies announced they were forming a strategic partnership with an emphasis on mobile strategy ahead of Salesforce’s enormous customer conference, Dreamforce, which starts tomorrow in San Francisco. For Apple, which is […]

Apple and Salesforce are both highly successful, iconic brands, who like to put on a big show when they make product announcements. Today, the two companies announced they were forming a strategic partnership with an emphasis on mobile strategy ahead of Salesforce’s enormous customer conference, Dreamforce, which starts tomorrow in San Francisco.

For Apple, which is has been establishing partnerships with key enterprise brands for the last several years, today’s news is a another big step toward solidifying its enterprise strategy by involving the largest enterprise SaaS vendor in the world.

“We’re forming a strategic partnership with Salesforce to change the way people work and to empower developers of all abilities to build world-class mobile apps,” Susan Prescott, vice president of markets, apps and services at Apple told TechCrunch.

Tim Cook at Apple event on September 12, 2018 Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Bret Taylor, president and chief product at Salesforce, who came over in the Quip deal a couple of years ago, says working together, the two companies can streamline mobile development for customers. “Every single one of our customers is on mobile. They all want world-class mobile experiences, and this enables us when we’re talking to a customer about their mobile strategy, that we can be in that conversation together,” he explained.

For starters, the partnership is going to involve three main components: The two companies are going to work together to bring in some key iOS features such Siri Shortcuts and integration with Apple’s Business Chat into the Salesforce mobile app. Much like the partnership between Apple and IBM, Apple and Salesforce will also work together to build industry-specific iOS apps on the Salesforce platform.

The companies are also working together on a new mobile SDK built specifically for Swift, Apple’s popular programming language. The plan is to provide a way to build Swift apps for iOS and deploy them natively on Salesforce’s Lightning platform.

The final component involves deeper integration with Trailhead, Salesforce’s education platform. That will involve a new Trailhead Mobile app on IOS as well as adding Swift education courses to the Trailhead catalogue to help drive adoption of the mobile SDK.

While Apple has largely been perceived as a consumer-focused organization, as we saw a shift to  companies encouraging employees to bring their own devices to work over the last six or seven years, Apple has benefited. As that has happened, it has been able to take advantage to sell more products and services and has partnered with a number of other well-known enterprise brands including IBMCiscoSAP and GE along with systems integrators Accenture and Deloitte.

The move gives Salesforce a formidable partner to continue their incredible growth trajectory. Just last year the company passed the $10 billion run rate putting it in rarified company with some of the most successful software companies in the world. In their most recent earnings call at the end of August, they reported $3.28 billion for the quarter, placing them on a run rate of over $13 billion. Connecting with Apple could help keep that momentum growing.

The two companies will show off the partnership at Dreamforce this week. It’s a deal that has the potential to work out well for both companies, giving Salesforce a more integrated iOS experience and helping Apple increase its reach into the enterprise.

Microsoft’s Quantum Development Kit adds a chemical simulation library

During last September’s Ignite conference, Microsoft heavily emphasized its quantum computing efforts and launched both its Q# programming language and development kits. This year, the focus is on other things, and the announcements about quantum are far and in between (and our understanding is that Microsoft, unlike some of its competitors, doesn’t have a working quantum […]

During last September’s Ignite conference, Microsoft heavily emphasized its quantum computing efforts and launched both its Q# programming language and development kits.

This year, the focus is on other things, and the announcements about quantum are far and in between (and our understanding is that Microsoft, unlike some of its competitors, doesn’t have a working quantum computing prototype yet). It did, however, announce an addition to its Quantum Development Kit that brings a new chemical simulation library to tools for getting started with quantum computing.

While there are plenty of applications for quantum computing once it becomes a reality, quite a few experts are betting on chemical simulations as one of the first areas where developers will be able to reap the fruits of this new computing paradigm. It’s maybe no surprise then that Microsoft is also betting on this.

The new library was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Labs. “The library will enable developers and organizations to create quantum-inspired solutions that can be simulated on classical computers today and quantum computers in the future – helping them tackle big chemistry challenges in such fields as agriculture and climate,” Microsoft explained ahead of today’s announcement.

While Microsoft is still working on making quantum hardware available to developers, competitors like IBM and Rigetti already offer working machines that may be limited in their capabilities — as all quantum computers currently are — but that offer developers the ability to test their algorithms on real machines. We’re still a while away from reaching the point where quantum computers will be able to live up to their potential, but as both IBM’s Dario Gil and Rigetti CEO Chad Rigetti told me at our Disrupt conference earlier this year, now is the time to get started with learning the basics.

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Microsoft Azure gets new high-performance storage options

Microsoft Azure is getting a number of new storage options today that mostly focus on use cases where disk performance matters. The first of these is Azure Ultra SSD Managed Disks, which are now in public preview. Microsoft says that these drives will offer “sub-millisecond latency,” which unsurprisingly makes them ideal for workloads where latency […]

Microsoft Azure is getting a number of new storage options today that mostly focus on use cases where disk performance matters.

The first of these is Azure Ultra SSD Managed Disks, which are now in public preview. Microsoft says that these drives will offer “sub-millisecond latency,” which unsurprisingly makes them ideal for workloads where latency matters.

Earlier this year, Microsoft launched its Premium and Standard SSD Managed Disks offerings for Azure into preview. As far as we can tell, these ‘ultra’ SSDs represent the next tier up from the Premium SSDs with even lower latency and higher throughput.

And talking about Standard SSD Managed Disks, this service is now generally available after only three months in preview. To top things off, all of Azure’s storage tiers (Premium and Standard SSD, as well as Standard HDD) now offer 8, 16 and 32 TB storage capacity.

Also new today is Azure Premium files, which is now in preview. This, too, is an SSD-based service. Azure Files itself isn’t new, though. It offers users access to cloud storage using the standard SMB protocol. This new premium offering promises higher throughput and lower latency for these kind of SMB operations.

VC firms of Kevin Durant and Snoop Dogg back Dutchie, a new cannabis delivery service

Ross Lipson, the chief executive officer and co-founder of the on-demand marijuana and cannabis delivery service, Dutchie, had thought he was done with the online delivery business. Instead, he’s launched a new delivery service that has just raised $3 million from Casa Verde Capital, the $45 million venture firm founded by hip hop impresario Snoop Dogg, and […]

Ross Lipson, the chief executive officer and co-founder of the on-demand marijuana and cannabis delivery service, Dutchie, had thought he was done with the online delivery business.

Instead, he’s launched a new delivery service that has just raised $3 million from Casa Verde Capital, the $45 million venture firm founded by hip hop impresario Snoop Dogg, and Kevin Durant’s Durant Company — among others — to take advantage of the growing demand for marijuana delivery.

It had been only five years since Lipson sold a food delivery business he spent a decade building when the inspiration for Dutchie came to him. And the idea was too compelling to shake.

Lipson was living in Bend, Ore., where he’d retired after selling his online food delivery business GrubCanada to JustEat, the European tech-enabled delivery giant, back in 2012.

Then, in 2015, after Oregon legalized recreational use of marijuana, Lipson began wondering if it wasn’t time to revisit the whole delivery space again.

For him, the conundrum for consumers looking to buy cannabis products was similar to the dilemma in-home diners faced when choosing what to eat. In the modern weed world (at least in places where marijuana is legal), consumers are so spoiled for choice they often go with a default option.

Before online delivery, ordering food meant turning to the neighborhood spot for everything from American to Ethiopian, Italian, Jamaican, Chinese, Indian, Thai, or Tibetan food. But with online delivery services, a whole city’s worth of restaurant options opened up to consumers (as long as they were in your delivery area).

The same, Lipson figured, was true of marijuana.

“We’re creating a tool that helps the user and consumer navigate the delivery space,” he said. “We’re educating the consumer to that buying experiences…. If you don’t have that online ordering tool in front of you you’re forced to choose a dispensary and take the information that that ‘budtender’ gives you, which is their personal preference.”

Right now, marijuana delivery is something of a land grab. In Los Angeles alone, services like Nugg, Ganjarunner, Kushfly, Eaze, HERB, Westside Organic, and Cannabis Express, all pitch delivery services for marijuana or cannabis infused products, oils and vapes to willing consumers.

Eaze, the biggest startup in the online delivery space, has raised at least $37 million to tackle the growing market for legal cannabis delivery since its launch in 2014.

Lipson, however, has seen this all before with food. He started Dutchie in 2017 (and yes, it is named after the song) in 2017 from Bend and has been slowly and steadily growing the business. The company signed on 50 dispensaries in Oregon to help prove out the product and just raised $3 million in a seed round from Casa Verde Capital, The Durant Company, Sinai Ventures and other angel investors.

The company currently operates in Oregon, Washington, and Michigan and is launching in Colorado, Nevada and California this month. It currently works with 100 dispensaries and has seen $2.5 million in gross merchandise volume in its first year of operations alone.

To further boost its expansion efforts, the company also signed an agreement with Canopy Rivers (the newly spun off investment and operating arm of $10 billion dollar Canadian cannabis company, Canopy Growth) to operate internationally in Canada. Asked why Lipson didn’t just try to float the business on the Toronto Stock Exchange to take advantage of the exuberance investors have for all things cannabis, the chief executive said he wanted to be more measured in his approach.

“There’s a lot of hype and speculation around the cannabis space especially in the public markets,” Lipson said. “It’s not a traditional way to go about a business of this size. We’re extremely excited and eager to partner with the investors that we did.”

With only 14 employees — many of whom work remotely — Lipson is hoping to roll out aggressively in the next few months across all states in which medical marijuana is legal as well and into Canada as well. 

“We’re priding ourselves on the concept of scalability,” says Lipson. Who’s relying on his co-founder, and brother, Zach, to help him execute. “That’s the underlying mantra of our strategy.”

That mantra of scalability was apparently what attracted Casa Verde, which took only two months to decide to lead the investment round into Lipson’s new venture. “I started talking to them four months ago,” Lipson said. “A month or two into it, they did the deal and took the lead and we’ve just been filling out the round with strategics.”

Microsoft hopes enterprises will want to use Cortana

In a world dominated by Alexa and the Google Assistant, Cortana suffers the fate of a perfectly good alternative that nobody uses and everybody forgets about. But Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if it just gave up on its investment in this space, so it’s now launching the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to see if […]

In a world dominated by Alexa and the Google Assistant, Cortana suffers the fate of a perfectly good alternative that nobody uses and everybody forgets about. But Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if it just gave up on its investment in this space, so it’s now launching the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to see if that’s a niche where Cortana can succeed.

This new kit is an end-to-end solution for enterprises that want to build their own skills and agents. Of course, they could have done this before using the existing developer tools. This kit isn’t all that different from those, after all. Microsoft notes that it is designed for deployment inside an organization and represents a new platform for them to build these experiences.

The Skills Kit platform is based on the Microsoft Bot Framework and the Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding feature.

Overall, this is probably not a bad bet on Microsoft’s part. I can see how some enterprises would want to build their own skills for their employees and customers to access internal data, for example, or to complete routine tasks.

For now, this tool is only available in private preview. No word on when we can expect a wider launch.

Microsoft OneDrive’s on-demand files come to the MacOS Finder

If you live and work in the Microsoft Office ecosystem but often use a Mac, here is some good news: OneDrive Files On-Demand is now available in public preview for MacOS. Files-On Demand was one of the marquee features of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. The general idea here is you can store your […]

If you live and work in the Microsoft Office ecosystem but often use a Mac, here is some good news: OneDrive Files On-Demand is now available in public preview for MacOS.

Files-On Demand was one of the marquee features of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. The general idea here is you can store your files in the cloud and sync them between devices, but while they show up in your Windows Explorer and — now — MacOS Finder, those files don’t actually have to be downloaded. Instead, as the name so smartly implies, Files On-Demand only downloads them as needed, freeing up precious local storage space.

Of course, you can always opt to sync every file, too. You really don’t want to have to sync a 2 GB file over slow airplane Wi-Fi, after all.

Microsoft notes that it is committed to “to the Mac as a first-class endpoint” and that it continues to invest in the platform. And these days, the Mac and Windows versions draw from the same code base and Mac updates arrive at monthly.

While Files On-Demand is about more than Office, chances are that many of the users will be Office users who use the built-in OneDrive features to store their documents in the cloud.

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Microsoft’s massive Surface Hub 2 whiteboards will launch in Q2 2019

The Surface Hub 2, the successor to Microsoft’s first set of giant Windows 10 touchscreen displays for collaboration, will launch in Q2 2019, the company announced today. Previously, the company had only said that it was targeting 2019 for the launch. The company also today provided a roadmap beyond that, though. First, it will launch […]

The Surface Hub 2, the successor to Microsoft’s first set of giant Windows 10 touchscreen displays for collaboration, will launch in Q2 2019, the company announced today. Previously, the company had only said that it was targeting 2019 for the launch.

The company also today provided a roadmap beyond that, though. First, it will launch the Surface Hub 2S. The S is significantly lighter and slimmer than the original Surface Hub, yet offers the same kind of user experience. The display is a bit smaller, though, and there will only be a 50.5-inch display instead of the 55-inch and 84-inch version previously offered. It’ll also feature a 4K camera, improved microphones and support for Microsoft Teams.

What’s maybe most interesting, though, is that in 2020, Microsoft plans to update the Surface Hub family with the Surface Hub 2X. It’s this update that brings a number of updates to the family that most users have been waiting for (and maybe hoped for from the 2S). The 2X will include the ability to rotate and tile the screen. It will also enable multiuser log in.

The good news here is that Surface Hub owners won’t have to throw away their old displays if they want to upgrade to the 2X. The Surface Hub 2 includes a replaceable processor cartridge, so 2S users will be able to upgrade to the 2X experience.

If you opt for the 2S for now (and if you had a few thousand dollars to spend on a collaborative digital whiteboard, why wouldn’t you?), then you can also make use of the new whiteboard app, use Bing to search (no word on whether you can choose search providers) and get all of the other benefits of the existing Surface Hub experience.

“As with all our devices, Surface Hub 2 was designed to give people a product that will help them create more, do more, and achieve more,” Microsoft says in today’s announcement. “With Surface Hub 2 we believe we have created an experience that not only people, but teams will love. Surface Hub 2 breaks down barriers between teammates and will help organizations around the world to elevate themselves with a more modern and collaborative culture.”

It’s worth noting that Microsoft got a bit of competition since it launched the first version of the Surface Hub. With its Jamboard, Google now offers a similar and somewhat more affordable experience, though if you are in the Microsoft and Office ecosystem, that won’t do you much good.

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Microsoft updates its planet-scale Cosmos DB database service

Cosmos DB is undoubtedly one of the most interesting products in Microsoft’s Azure portfolio. It’s a fully managed, globally distributed multi-model database that offers throughput guarantees, a number of different consistency models and high read and write availability guarantees. Now that’s a mouthful, but basically, it means that developers can build a truly global product, […]

Cosmos DB is undoubtedly one of the most interesting products in Microsoft’s Azure portfolio. It’s a fully managed, globally distributed multi-model database that offers throughput guarantees, a number of different consistency models and high read and write availability guarantees. Now that’s a mouthful, but basically, it means that developers can build a truly global product, write database updates to Cosmos DB and rest assured that every other user across the world will see those updates within 20 milliseconds or so. And to write their applications, they can pretend that Cosmos DB is a SQL- or MongoDB-compatible database, for example.

CosmosDB officially launched in May 2017, though in many ways it’s an evolution of Microsoft’s existing Document DB product, which was far less flexible. Today, a lot of Microsoft’s own products run on CosmosDB, including the Azure Portal itself, as well as Skype, Office 365 and Xbox.

Today, Microsoft is extending Cosmos DB with the launch of its multi-master replication feature into general availability, as well as support for the Cassandra API, giving developers yet another option to bring existing products to CosmosDB, which in this case are those written for Cassandra.

Microsoft now also promises 99.999 percent read and write availability. Previously, it’s read availability promise was 99.99 percent. And while that may not seem like a big difference, it does show that after more of a year of operating Cosmos DB with customers, Microsoft now feels more confident that it’s a highly stable system. In addition, Microsoft is also updating its write latency SLA and now promises less than 10 milliseconds at the 99th percentile.

“If you have write-heavy workloads, spanning multiple geos, and you need this near real-time ingest of your data, this becomes extremely attractive for IoT, web, mobile gaming scenarios,” Microsoft CosmosDB architect and product manager Rimma Nehme told me. She also stressed that she believes Microsoft’s SLA definitions are far more stringent than those of its competitors.

The highlight of the update, though, is multi-master replication. “We believe that we’re really the first operational database out there in the marketplace that runs on such a scale and will enable globally scalable multi-master available to the customers,” Nehme said. “The underlying protocols were designed to be multi-master from the very beginning.”

Why is this such a big deal? With this, developers can designate every region they run Cosmos DB in as a master in its own right, making for a far more scalable system in terms of being able to write updates to the database. There’s no need to first write to a single master node, which may be far away, and then have that node push the update to every other region. Instead, applications can write to the nearest region, and Cosmos DB handles everything from there. If there are conflicts, the user can decide how those should be resolved based on their own needs.

Nehme noted that all of this still plays well with CosmosDB’s existing set of consistency models. If you don’t spend your days thinking about database consistency models, then this may sound arcane, but there’s a whole area of computer science that focuses on little else but how to best handle a scenario where two users virtually simultaneously try to change the same cell in a distributed database.

Unlike other databases, Cosmos DB allows for a variety of consistency models, ranging from strong to eventual, with three intermediary models. And it actually turns out that most CosmosDB users opt for one of those intermediary models.

Interestingly, when I talked to Leslie Lamport, the Turing award winner who developed some of the fundamental concepts behind these consistency models (and the popular LaTeX document preparation system), he wasn’t all that sure that the developers are making the right choice. “I don’t know whether they really understand the consequences or whether their customers are going to be in for some surprises,” he told me. “If they’re smart, they are getting just the amount of consistency that they need. If they’re not smart, it means they’re trying to gain some efficiency and their users might not be happy about that.” He noted that when you give up strong consistency, it’s often hard to understand what exactly is happening.

But strong consistency comes with its drawbacks, too, which leads to higher latency. “For strong consistency there are a certain number of roundtrip message delays that you can’t avoid,” Lamport noted.

The CosmosDB team isn’t just building on some of the fundamental work Lamport did around databases, but it’s also making extensive use of TLA+, the formal specification language Lamport developed in the late 90s. Microsoft, as well as Amazon and others, are now training their engineers to use TLA+ to describe their algorithms mathematically before they implement them in whatever language they prefer.

“Because [CosmosDB is] a massively complicated system, there is no way to ensure the correctness of it because we are humans, and trying to hold all of these failure conditions and the complexity in any one person’s — one engineer’s — head, is impossible,” Microsoft Technical Follow Dharma Shukla noted. “TLA+ is huge in terms of getting the design done correctly, specified and validated using the TLA+ tools even before a single line of code is written. You cover all of those hundreds of thousands of edge cases that can potentially lead to data loss or availability loss, or race conditions that you had never thought about, but that two or three years ago after you have deployed the code can lead to some data corruption for customers. That would be disastrous.”

“Programming languages have a very precise goal, which is to be able to write code. And the thing that I’ve been saying over and over again is that programming is more than just coding,” Lamport added. “It’s not just coding, that’s the easy part of programming. The hard part of programming is getting the algorithms right.”

Lamport also noted that he deliberately chose to make TLA+ look like mathematics, not like another programming languages. “It really forces people to think above the code level,” Lamport noted and added that engineers often tell him that it changes the way they think.

As for those companies that don’t use TLA+ or a similar methodology, Lamport says he’s worried. “I’m really comforted that [Microsoft] is using TLA+ because I don’t see how anyone could do it without using that kind of mathematical thinking — and I worry about what the other systems that we wind up using built by other organizations — I worry about how reliable they are.”

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Roku brings down the cost of 4K streaming with its new Premiere players

Roku is expanding its lineup of streaming media players in an attempt to bring down the cost of 4K-ready devices, and plug every hole in the market. The company announced this morning the launch of two new devices, the Roku Premiere and a Walmart exclusive version, the Roku Premiere+. Previously, Roku’s lowest price 4K-ready device […]

Roku is expanding its lineup of streaming media players in an attempt to bring down the cost of 4K-ready devices, and plug every hole in the market. The company announced this morning the launch of two new devices, the Roku Premiere and a Walmart exclusive version, the Roku Premiere+.

Previously, Roku’s lowest price 4K-ready device was the $70 Roku Streaming Stick+. Now, through the Premiere line, it offers 4K players that start at $40.

The Premiere ($39.99) sports a quad-core processor, and supports streaming content in HD, 4K, and 4K HDR. It also ships with an HDMI cable, IR remote, works over 802.11 (b/g/n) Wi-Fi, and offers Dolby and DTS Digital Surround pass through over HDMI.

The Premiere+ ($49.99) offers the same, except that it includes Roku’s voice remote with the TV power and volume up and down down buttons.

 

And both will have access to Roku’s 4K Spotlight channel from the Roku home screen, where you’ll find a round-up of TV shows and movies filmed in 4K Ultra HD.

“We think that this fall is definitely going to be a 4K holiday,” says Mark Ely, Roku’s Vice President of Product Management, in a call with TechCrunch. “[Analyst at IHS] are saying roughly 24 million 4K panels will ship in 2018 and that 97% of TVs 55 inches or the larger will be 4K. Also, the content is beginning to show up to go along with that – Netflix Originals, Amazon Prime Video, and certainly first-run Hollywood movies on Vudu,” he adds. “There’s a lot of 4K content.”

In addition to the launch of the new players, Roku is also improving its high-end Roku Ultra ($99.99) device, which will now ship with JBL headphones included in the package for the same price.

The Roku Premiere is available for pre-order on Roku.com today, and will also be available at major retailers along with the Ultra in early October. The Roku Premiere+ will be exclusive to Walmart stores and Walmart.com.

Alongside the news of the new devices, Roku also today announced Roku OS software updates – Roku OS 8.2 for Roku TVs and Roku’s wireless speakers, and Roku 9.0 for its other devices.

The 8.2 release adds supports for launching and controlling iHeartRadio, Pandora, and TuneIn using voice commands. It has also added other improvements, like boosting voice frequencies for better speech clarity and and automatic volume leveling feature to create uniform sound across content (no more blaring commercials or movies that go from quiet to loud, requiring constant fiddling with the remote control).

Spotify is also returning to Roku with 8.2 with an updated app users can launch with a remote, as well as via Spotify Connect – the feature that lets them control Spotify on a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone but stream through the Roku.

Meanwhile, Roku OS 9.0, which is arriving on Roku streaming players ahed of Roku TVs, also adds Spotify, automatic voice leveling, and a new way to search for free content by voice. (e.g. “show me free comedies” or “free dramas,” etc.)

Roku OS 8.2 is coming to Roku TVs now as a staged rollout that completes in November. Roku OS 9.0 will roll out to streaming players in early November, then hit Roku Tvs in Q1 2019.

In addition, Roku says it will soon add support for controlling its devices through Google Assistant.

Roku’s strategy with its devices it to make sure there’s a model for everyone, whether it’s an entry-level streamer for those just testing the waters, or a premium device for those who want added bells and whistles – like Roku Ultra with its lost remote finder function and extra ports.

The company is now one of the top streaming media device makers on the market, as a result.

Roku says it now has 22 million active user accounts, which is up 43% year-over-year. Its users have streaming 5.5 billion hours of content, which is up 57% year-over-year. And one in four TVs sold in the U.S. is now a Roku TV.