It’s been common knowledge that Apple is generally behind the big tech pack when it comes to AI. While they were on the leading edge of the category in mobile thanks to their acquisition of Siti back in 2010, they sat on that lead, squandered it, and promptly fell behind Google and then later Amazon and Microsoft.
The biggest frustration of most Apple fans who were following along was the company’s lack of decisive action. For a few years, it seemed that Apple didn’t recognize the problem, despite that fact that their deficiencies were widely known. Even once they recognized the problem, it seemed that they weren’t making much headway.
Despite how things once appeared, it seems that Apple can no longer be accused of inaction. According to an article from CBInsights, Apple actually leads the pack when it comes to AI acquisitions. As you can see from the chart below, they have gotten quite aggressive in recent years:
Since around 2015, Apple has been on a buying binge that was matched only by Google. However, while Google’s has moderated more over the last four years, Apple is just as aggressive now as in the previous three years.
While it is easy to throw stones at Apple over their lack of progress with Siri after all of these acquisitions, that isn’t all that Apple is working on. The integrations throughout their OSs are labeled as Siri technology, but they have fared much better than the voice features we more commonly think of. These integrations have actually become quite useful in several ways. However, the real movement has been in the red hot and vitally important area of computational photography.
Yes, I have to give Apple credit here. This is another segment where they had an early jump on the competition only to fall behind over several years. However, Apple caught up to and even passed up some of the competition with the massive improvements in last year’s iOS 13 and the iPhones 11. Their new Dark Mode and Deep Fusion photography modes have both been a huge improvement. Added to their continually improved Portrait Mode and their high-quality lenses, they have put Apple back among the top smartphone camera options.
It will be interesting to see the continued influences of these new companies and their technologies on Apple as time goes on. We know there has been a huge push in photography, but what’s next? Music? We’ve started to see more movement there thanks to Apple’s purchase of Shazam. The company seems to be getting mroe serious about home automation, so maybe that will be an area of increased influence. Who knows? Maybe one of these days they will get around to actually fixing Siri.
Another detail to keep an eye on is whether these AI acquisitions will come up during the Congressional hearings that were originally scheduled for Monday. They have been delayed a few days. but they will still go forward and with the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook all on display, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the topic of acquisitions comes up.
If the governments of the US and EU don’t derail things for Apple, look for them to continue this steady stream of acquisitions and acqui-hires. AI talent is hard to come by and it seems that most of the industry has been using acquisitions to staff up. As long as they still have a green light, don’t expect Apple to end this practice any time soon. Now it’s just a matter of what gaps they decide to plug next.