Apple goes shopping

Apple has taken some of its repatriated cash assets and done what anybody does when they receive a windfall – it has gone shopping!

Apple, AI, machine intelligence, acquisitions, iOS, iPhone, Core ML, Asaii

As we race to the close of the company’s fourth quarter, it seems pretty clear that Apple has taken some of its repatriated cash assets and done what anybody does when they receive a windfall — the company has gone shopping!

Acquisitions everywhere

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen/learned about:

That’s a heap of acquisitions/potential acquisitions spanning music, entertainment, data analytics, power management (and more), and machine imaging.

These purchases join the following, which were also revealed this year:

  • Silicon Valley Data Science (data analytics)
  • Buddybuild (developer tools)
  • Texture (digital magazine services)
  • Akonia Holographics (AR glasses lenses)

Put it all together, and what have you got?

Everyone and their dog (and certainly my dog) all know Apple is working to develop services and systems that provide huge utility to end users without undermining their privacy.

A lot of people misunderstand that commitment, thinking it means the company isn’t collecting data. That’ a fundamental misconception because Apple does gather data — it just does so anonymously thanks to its use of differential privacy.

What that means is Apple can answer questions about the plurality of its user base, but it can’t necessarily determine choices you personally would make — though the devices that you own can thanks to access to that mass-sourced data supplemented by personalized on-device processing and CoreML.

Your device intelligence is fed by the more generic data identified by the company from within its anonymized data stacks. The company combines the data it has sourced from the crowd and lets the device personalize that information for your needs.

That model is harder to build in the short-term but inevitably leads to higher degrees of personalization than you get from other models. That's because the devices learn more about you than those services can, assuming you choose to give them permission to do so.

The idea is that this kind of artificial intelligence (AI) helps you get things done, using crowd-sourced wisdom to quietly inform the decisions you take — all without making your life an open book for shadowy entities you do not know and cannot control.

What’s that got to do with these acquisitions?

  1. Power management is critical to all of this. You want to build technologies that can get a great deal of work done without impacting overall performance.
  2. Wearables, including glasses, are also part of this — you want augmented reality (AR) lenses that don’t give you motion sickness, you want wearable devices that don’t ever need to be plugged into power, and you want augmented experiences that are available in multiple channels: display, voice, glance, and so on. To make mixed user interfaces effective, you need good data to help tell the difference between on interaction driver and another.
  3. Services aren’t just window dressing; they become increasingly essential as consumer tastes change (as they will soon enough) away from annual refresh cycles in favor of more environmentally friendly models of consumption.
  4. Apple is focused on music, as Apple Music shows. The data analytics systems it has acquired will be of equal value in the other media services it hopes to build, from its widely discussed Apple Video ventures to its future move to make Apple News a one-stop shop for all forms of news and magazines. (Don’t be too surprises to see the value of magazine brands erode even while the value of individual journalists capable of articulating the collective vision of discriminating readers increases, as the AI will eventually become title-agnostic in response to user need.)
  5. Many services — music and words, for example, can be accessed in multiple platforms — TV and headphones, screen and audio, and so on.
  6. Mass-sourced data combined with improved personalization should certainly improve the capacity for your devices to recommend music, movies, and other media you are likely to enjoy.

Summing up: Apple’s big purchases in the closing quarter of 2018 see a focus across many interest sectors, but one over-arching motivation must be improvements in its data analysis capabilities, particularly around personalization.

What's the end-game?

I’ve been parsing Apple executive statements for decades.

It is interesting to me that Apple’s senior staff have been repeating this line from Cook in recent months.

Cook has been pointing at other companies whose marketing teams like to claim that they need access to your data in order to make better services and saying you should not believe them.

“Whoever is telling you that, it’s a bunch of blarney,” he said. “We want the device to know, but we want to keep the data there.”

All it takes is good data analytics in the cloud to support and inform the machine intelligence inside your device. Looking forward to iOS 13?

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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