Why won’t Apple tell us who it’s buying??
Apple CEO Tim Cook this week told shareholders his company acquired 19 companies in 2017, but we still don’t know who they all are.
Why it matters
Apple typically purchases 15-20 companies each year, and nearly always keeps the motivation behind its purchases close to its chest. About all it will usually tell us when we happen to spot that it has made an acquisition is: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”
There are two more reasons to take a big interest in Apple’s acquisition patterns in the last 12-months. The first is news that the company recently met with Goldman Sachs, ostensibly to begin offering its own credit deals for new Apple kit, the second is Goldman Sachs subsequent claim that Apple is positioning itself for another major acquisition.
I’ve been trying to figure out the identities of these 19 purchases, and this is what I’ve found so far:
Widely-known acquisitions include:
While it is not certain if Apple CEO Tim Cook is referring to the 2017 financial year, or to the calendar year when he reveals the 19 purchases, it is widely-known that Apple acquired the following companies in the calendar year 2017:
- Workflow (March 2017): Developers of a popular automation app
- Beddit (May 2017): A sleep tracking technology developer that had created a sleep tracking sensor and software solution. The sensor used what the firm called “ballistocardiography” (BCG) tech to measure heart, lung, and other body activity.
- Lattice Data (May 2017): A data analytics and AI company developing solutions to turn unstructured data into useful information for analytics.
- SensoMotoric Instruments (June 2017): A veteran developer of eye tracking tech, SensoMotoric developed an eye-tracking development kit for the HTC Vive VR headset in 2016.
- Vrvana (September 2017): A manufacturer/developer of AR and VR headsets, the company had recently announced its Totem headset. This let wearers combine AR and VR in a single headset, capable of showing opaque blacks and mixing real and virtual world action.
- Regaind (September 2017): Developer of intelligent photo analysis technology, capable of identifying not just the subject of an image, but also its technical and aesthetic value.
- ai (October 2017): A small firm developing a smart customer services assistant that likely has implications in Siri, Siri for the enterprise, and messaging products.
- PowerbyProxi (October 2017): Wireless charging technologies that may potentially be used in Apple’s forthcoming AirPower product.
- Shazam (December 2017): The world-renowned music recognition service.
- Buddybuild. This deal was announced in early January 2018, making it quite possible it was finalized and booked in 2017. Buddybuild made app developer solutions.
(Apple’s 2017 financial year began September 25, 2016. In the last three months of calendar 2016 subsequent to that date, the company also acquired indoor mapping firm, Indoor.io and, possibly [it was denied], Omnifone.)
Lesser known acquisitions
Apple made several more acquisitions that don’t appear to be so widely-known in 2017, these include:
- RealFace (Feb 2017): Apple also purchased Israeli cybersecurity and machine learning firm, RealFace. A company that specialized in facial recognition technology.
- Pop Up Archive (November 2017): A developer of highly sophisticated audio and podcast search technologies
- InVisage (November 2017): This not widely known acquisition saw Apple purchase a startup developing technologies to improve imaging capabilities on space-constrained devices, such as smartphones. It had developed a tech called QuantumFilm that had actually been used to make a movie, as described in this clip:
It seems possible (if only remotely plausible) that Apple was referring to another acquisition it made during 2017. In July 2017 the company purchased 11 or 12 (reports vary) patents from Korean firm, Pantech. The latter was at one time the country’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer and the patents relate to wireless communications, MIMO and video conferencing.
What about the partnerships?
Apple also has a couple of big ongoing investments in jointly-held firms, including a billion-dollars each in both China’s Didi Chuxing and Softbank’s ‘Vision Fund’. That investment surely means it has some interest in the acquisition activity of those groups, though it is unclear how much control it may have in its stake.
Highlights of investments by those firms include Softbank’s investments in both Didi Chuxing and Uber, as well as in ARM, Nvidia and sundry other technologies and services (including dog walking service, Wag). Didi Chuxing’s purchases of Blugogo and Brazil’s 99 ride sharing app may also be of some interest.
What are the key areas?
Discounting the patents and partnerships, Apple is quite clearly investing a huge amount of money on machine intelligence, imaging, and VR/AR hardware technologies. This makes a huge amount of sense, given the company is thought to be working to bring VR/AR glasses to market by late 2019, or before.
“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” pic.twitter.com/VaqEnzdo7R
— Matthew Panzarino (@panzer) November 9, 2017
So, what don’t we know?
Having dug into what public/verified information concerning Apple’s acquisitions I have been able to find, and assuming the company is referring to the calendar year 2017, then we have identified just 12 or 13 of the 19 companies Apple acquired that year.
This leaves a baker’s half-dozen purchases unaccounted for.
This means either that those purchases were of firms of such tininess or such niche interest that no one really noticed them go, or (perhaps more likely) firms of such importance within their fields that public disclosure of the deal would give the company’s many competitors too much insight into its future plans, even before it is ready to get those plans on the road.
However, the fact that so many of the firms the company has acquired remain unknown is most definitely food for thought, particularly given Apple’s R&D spending hit a record $3.4 billion in Q1 2018.
Does anyone out there have more insight into Apple’s acquisitions? It would be interesting to learn more.