Is Microsoft Building a Siri Killer?
The Windows maker has filed a patent for a shopping assistant that sounds an awful lot like the beginnings of an Apple assault.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (via Engadget), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has or plans to experiment with a device or software that could "relate to the dynamic calculation and presentation of efficient travel routes for in-person shoppers."
"For example, an adaptive shopping server system is configured to generate, for display on a shopping client device, an efficient travel route to a location of one or more user-requested merchandise items, the efficient travel route being advantageously distinct relative to other potential travel routes in consideration of a route efficiency selection criterion received from the shopping client device," the patent explains.
In short, Microsoft could essentially build an app and/or device that would help users hunt down the items they want most -- like an Xbox 360 or a fresh copy of Windows 8 when it's released (wink, wink). If this patent leads to an actual product, it would surely help consumers acquire more than Microsoft's own products, enabling Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) fans to shop for Macs, iPads, and iPhones.
How would Microsoft produce a device that is capable of telling consumers the most "advantageously distinct" shopping route? The company could base it on generic map and GPS info, which it could pull from its own site, Bing.com. But if Microsoft really wanted to create something revolutionary, the Bill Gates enterprise would have to work with retailers like Target (NYSE: TGT) and Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) in order to provide consumers with the most efficient route. Microsoft must agree, as it wrote the following in its patent (take note of the portion I bolded):
"[The invention claimed may]….send the initial travel route to the shopping client device for display on the shopping client device; responsive to a real-time change in retail conditions, receive a report generated by a participating merchant that indicates updated retail conditions, generate an updated travel route to a different merchandise location at a different site for obtaining the requested merchandise item in view of the updated retail conditions; and send the updated travel route to the shopping client device for display on the shopping client device."
That may be easier said than done, however. Best Buy currently has a four-hour delay on the reporting of in-store merchandise. Thus, the Canon (NYSE: CAJ) camera you found on bestbuy.com might be listed as an item that's in stock at a particular store, but it may actually be sold out.
This is one of many hurdles Microsoft could face (in addition to the likely occurrence that retailers wouldn't be interested in sharing their inventory information with Microsoft).
As with so many patents that are filed each year, Microsoft might not actually intend to build this shopping assistant into a real product. While some might think that the company secured the patent just for the heck of it (or to use in a lawsuit several years from now), Microsoft likely has other plans.
Namely, a Siri killer.
Microsoft could theoretically build and sell the shopping assistant separately. But unless there is a ton of money to be made on the venture (ex: if retailers ask for it, Microsoft should probably greenlight the project), the company isn't likely to focus on developing this project alone. Rather, Microsoft's so-called "shopping assistant" is likely the basis for a deeper digital assistant that could perform a multitude of actions. The interesting thing about this patent is that it shows the level of depth Microsoft is willing to apply to each of those actions.
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