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 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.

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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 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 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.

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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 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.”

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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 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.

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