The news of Apple acquiring Gliimpse – a health startup founded by two Indian entrepreneurs – is making all the headlines at present. The move is a direct riposte to the recent acquisition of Genee by Microsoft Corporation. With Gliimpse, Apple seems all set to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for compiling and sharing important medical and health information in a better, more efficient way. Over the years, Apple has made many other such interesting acquisitions, and in today’s discussion, we highlight some of them:
- NeXT (1997) – A landmark acquisition in the history of Apple Inc – one that marked the return of Steve Jobs to the company, and triggered the recovery of the latter. Founded in 1985 by Jobs himself, NeXT was into making making computers. It launched the NeXTSTEP operating system (object-oriented) – which later went on to become the foundation for the World Wide Web, as well as the OS X and iOS platforms. Apple shelled out a cool $429 million to acquire NeXT and get Jobs back as the CEO of what was then a struggling company.
- PowerSchool (2001) – This web-based education technology platform was bought by Apple on the final day of 2001, for more than $63 million in Apple Stock. PowerSchool served as a powerful internet-powered data management tool for teachers and students. It was sold off to Pearson in 2006, and last year, it was acquired by BlackBoard. By 2015 estimates, PowerSchool is used in 75+ countries across the globe, and generates close to $100 million revenue.
- Burstly (2014) – Burstly were the makers of the popular app testing tool TestFlight, and it was snapped up by the Cupertino tech giant in February 2001. The service allows iOS app developers to test their applications at early stages, before making submissions to the Apple App Store. Not surprisingly, TestFlight’s support for Android was discontinued soon after the takeover. The FlightPath analytics platform was also discontinued. To date, TestFlight remains the go-to app testing tool for iPhone developers worldwide.
- Siri (2010) – If the Siri mobile digital assistant had not been acquired by Apple in the spring of 2010, we would probably seen it arrive on Android and Blackberry phones as well. As things turned out though, the acquisition did take place, for a sum upwards of $200 million. Siri debuted on 2011’s iPhone 4S, and has been a key part of the iOS platform ever since. It is also present on watchOS and tvOS. This fall, Siri will be arriving on the latest iteration of the OS X platform – macOS Sierra. The intelligent personal mobile assistant has limited support for smart cars via CarPlay too.
- Spotsetter (2014) – Johnny Lee and Stephen Tse (a former Google maps designer) co-founded Spotsetter, a social map application that provides intelligent recommendations on nearby places – based on reviews and feedback given by friends. The function of Spotsetter is somewhat similar to that of Foursquare, but Apple still went ahead with the acquisition. Information is taken from personal Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles, to generate place recommendations. This acquisition led to rumours among many software and mobile app developers that Apple Maps (not a particularly accurate service) was due for a redesign.
- Anobit (2012) – With an eye to upgrade the NAND flash memory chips, Apple acquired Anobit Technologies (an Israeli startup tech company) in 2012, for an approximate sum of $390-$400 million. Since the chips are used in iPhones, iPods as well as iPads, and Apple has been struggling in the flash memory game for some time – the acquisition of Anobit made complete sense. When the company did buy Anobit, it received another big advantage – with 160+ Anobit engineers joining the team of developers at Apple.
- Beats Music (2014) – When Apple forked out $3 billion to purchase Beats Music, software analysts and experts from the field of iOS app development expected the company to emerge as a serious challenger to Spotify – the worldwide leader in the music-streaming market. Apple Music was launched soon after the Beats acquisition – and that, interestingly, limited the user-base of Beats Music. In November 2015, Apple finally shut down Beats Music, primarily due to the negligible growth in the user base. The deal that made Dr.Dre the most recognizable name in hip-hop music did not quite have the expected after-effects.
- Nothing Real (2002) – $15 million was the value of the acquisition deal of Apple for Nothing Real - a top post-production and visual effects software development company. The takeover also included Nothing Real’s well-reviewed proprietary software, Shake. While Apple did use Shake for the OS X platform following the acquisition, it steadily decreased the price of the software over the years. Shake 4.1 (2006), in fact, had zero maintenance fee. Things came to a head when Apple finally discontinued Shake in July 2009.
Note: Apple acquired Emagic, a noted music software production company, in 2002 as well – soon after the deal with Nothing Real.
- Swell (2014) – ‘When you can’t cope with a competitor, buy it’ – that seemed to be the rationale behind Apple’s acquisition of Swell – a mobile radio application. It offered high-quality music streaming services to iPhone users, with the content being customized from USA and Canada. Interestingly, the Swell app managed to garner much higher ratings and better reviews than Apple’s very own Podcasts application. By mutual agreement, the Swell Radio app was removed from the App Store after the acquisition went through.
- AuthenTec (2012) – This one ranks third in the list of most valuable acquisitions made by Apple ever (after NeXT and Anobit). AuthenTec was bought at a time when concerns of the security of Apple’s devices were rising, among general users and those who make iOS apps alike. The acquired company was founded in 1998, and had made a name for itself in building robust fingerprint sensors and other security add-ons for mobile devices. The deal went through for a whopping $356 million, and was probably a precursor to the now-integral NFC technology in the Apple ecosystem.
- FoundationDB (2015) – FoundationDB was a NoSQL database startup based in Virginia. It used to make cheap, high-speed and completely secure databases that could be seamlessly used in various web applications. The prompt data access feature of FoundationDB, in particular, made the tool extremely useful for many of Apple’s online services, like iTunes and iBooks. Following the acquisition, it was officially announced that FoundationDB’s software would no longer be available for download. Instead, its capabilities were used to improve the quality of iCloud services.
Note: In 2013, Apple had snapped up Acunu a data analytics and database setup built on Cassandra (yet another NoSql database).
12. C3 Technologies (2011) – Apple followed up its relatively low-key acquisition of Placebase and Poly9 (3D mapping agencies) with the takeover of C3 Technologies in 2011. The company was based in Sweden, and after the acquisition, the division was renamed ‘Sputnik’. The deal was valued at $267 million, and Apple clearly had plans to take advantage of the 3D mapping technology to upgrade iOS maps and gradually move away from the Google Maps service.
Prss, a digital magazine publishing startup, was bought by Apple in the second half of 2014. Chomp, an app search engine, was also acquired in 2014 – while the Ottocat search engine was taken over a year earlier. In the last 12 months or so, Apple has acquired companies from various domains – from Mapsense (mapping visualization), LegbaCore (firmware security) and Emotient (gesture recognition), to VocalIQ (speech technology) and Turi (machine learning). The Cupertino company does not make as many acquisitions as Google – but there is no dearth of interesting Apple takeovers over the years.
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