Apple acquisition spree continues with data compression firm AlgoTrim

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If there were some sort of rewards program for acquiring small tech companies, Apple would surely have racked up a ton of points by now. Cupertino’s latest purchase is a Malmö, Sweden-based company called AlgoTrim; its acquisition was first reported by Swedish news service Rapidus, and later confirmed by TechCrunch.

Unlike Apple’s last several investments, this firm isn’t location- or mapping-related. AlgoTrim actually specializes in data-compression algorithms—specifically, codecs that deal with images and video on mobile platforms. While the company originally provided its software to feature phones, AlgoTrim has more recently been used in Gallery app on the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google’s Android operating system. Other clients have included Japanese mobile carrier KDDI, which uses AlgoTrim’s software in its Photo Album App, and other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), which use the compression algorithms to deliver firmware updates to devices.

So what’s Apple’s interest in AlgoTrim? When it comes to mobile platforms, data compression is a big deal—and, using AlgoTrim’s software, Apple might be able to make it into a somewhat smaller deal. Much of what we do on our phones requires downloading lots of data, whether it be listening to music, watching video, or even just browsing the Web. Anybody who has ever exceeded their monthly cellular data limit has probably wished for a more efficient use of bandwidth.

Optimized algorithms could also speed up the ways we interact with images, improving performance and yielding a better experience for users. Obviously, taking and viewing photos are a significant part of what we do with our mobile devices, and anything that helps make that snappier is a tangible benefit for end users. AlgoTrim’s technology could even lead to some additional image or video features that we haven’t yet seen, such as slow-motion video—better compression algorithms could let users record high-resolution video at a high framerate without requiring equally high levels of processor usage and battery power.

There are more low-level uses, too. One of AlgoTrim’s products is a lossless compression algorithm, which my more-technical colleague Marco Tabini points out can be used to let iOS use RAM more efficiently, storing more data in the same amount of space.

And of course, you can’t overlook the strategic reason, as Marco also reminded me: If Apple acquires these codecs, its competitors—such as Android—won’t get to reap their advantages. That’s not insignificant, nor is the fact that Apple’s hiring a bunch of smart people whose brain power can be brought to bear on other improvements to the company’s technology.

This marks Apple’s seventh public acquisition in 2013, though CEO Tim Cook said at the D11 conference in May that it had already acquired nine other companies in the current fiscal year, not all of which had been publicly announced. So far, the company has bought several mapping- and location-based firms, including WiFiSlam, Locationary, HopStop, and Embark, as well as TV-recommendation service and wireless-chip-maker Passif Semiconductor.

It’s unknown exactly what Apple paid for AlgoTrim, but I’m pretty sure that after you’ve bought six companies, your seventh is free.

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