Sure as summer turns to fall, sure as pizza is the most delicious food, sure as a shark will devour whatever lies in its path, Apple is once again gobbling up smaller companies. In the past few weeks, we’ve heard of at least three acquisitions that Apple has made recently.
Whether it’s because the companies have developed some sort of technology that Apple wants for itself (or to deny its competitors) or because the Cupertino-based company is looking to hire more people with certain specialities, Apple tends to acquire smaller companies regularly. According to comments from Tim Cook last year, it’s at a rate of roughly one company every two or three weeks, which is, well, a lot of acquisitions.
While you can’t always draw a straight line from the firms that Apple decides to buy to actual shipping products, I do believe that there’s information to glean from what technology catches the company’s eye in terms of what it’s interested in and where it’s putting its energy. With that in mind, let’s take a look at those recent three purchases and see what there is to see.
Putting the AI and AR in Camerai
Apple’s focus on photography vis-a-vis the iPhone has been one of the driving forces of its smartphone development ever since the device was first introduced. Every year has seen attempts to push the envelope of what the iPhone camera can do, whether it be multiple lenses, additional photo modes, or improved camera hardware.
And with Apple’s more recent push in augmented reality, it’s no surprise that the Israeli
startup Camerai found itself in Cupertino’s crosshairs, sitting as it does at the intersection of those two areas of interest. Camerai provided a framework for apps to implement features, some of which are similar to those Apple already offers—namely, a portrait mode powered by machine learning identifying certain objects in the photo. But Camerai also offered features like “skeleton tracking,” which uses technology to detect where the joints are in a body, something that could be of great interest to those developing AR apps. (And, given that Camerai’s acquisition seems to have been a while back, may already be implemented into the upcoming AR pose detection features in iOS 14.)
It seems clear that Apple has plenty of significant AR and photography enhancements in the pipeline, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this manifest in the form of camera features with better abilities to recognize (and thus optimize pictures of) not only people, but also potentially more types of scenes and objects. iOS already does a lot of work behind the scenes in how it takes great pictures, and acquisitions like this only help make Apple’s camera smarter.
Spaces to grow
Apple has for a long time had a feature called Spaces, which allows you to maintain multiple desktops on your Mac.
This is not that.
Spaces was a virtual reality firm that was working on developing shared spaces in VR, originally for places like theme parks, but more recently by rolling out features like virtual workspaces as well as integrating VR with broadcasting and video chat, allowing virtual environments to share their space with other types of online interactions.
Apple’s interest in VR has lagged behind its AR ambitions, but in looking at Spaces products, I couldn’t help but be struck by a certain similarity between its virtual avatars and Apple’s own Memoji. (Although I will argue that Spaces’s virtual representations look like they’re trying to hew too close to real.) It’s not hard to imagine that if and when Apple does venture into creating an all-virtual environment, customers might very well find themselves represented by a Memoji-like character—not dissimilar from how Nintendo and Microsoft have allowed users to create cartoon character versions of themselves on their game platforms.
Creating a virtual environemnt for people to interact within certainly does seem like it could be attractive in today’s world, so it will be interesting to see if Apple leverages Spaces’s technology to perhaps expand what it already offers with features like FaceTime.
Apple Pay up
I was a big fan of contactless payments even before the world found itself beset by a pandemic, but now I’m even more so. One feature that has been lacking, however, is the ability of Apple’s mobile devices to receive contactless payments. It’s a feature I’ve advocated for several times over the years, and now it seems like it might be actually in the works, if Apple’s acquisition of Canadian firm Mobeewave is any indication.
Mobeewave uses NFC, the same technology that underlies Apple Pay, to turn a mobile device into a payment terminal, something that currently that requires third-party hardware, such as a reader device from point-of-sale companies like Square or Toast.
One improvement this might presage is the addition of NFC to iPads. To date, while iPads have included NFC controller chips as part of the secure element, they have lacked the requisite antennas to actually function as payment devices. But with the addition of the right hardware and the technology from Mobeewave, there’s no reason that an iPad couldn’t become a point-of-sale terminal right out of the box.
There could be a benefit for iPhone users as well. Not only could iPhones function as handheld payment terminals at places like farmer’s markets or food trucks, but you could quickly send money to someone without having to resort to iMessage. And, though it may be too much to hope, it opens up at least the possibility of cross-platform payment, meaning you might be able to tap your friend’s Android phone in order to send them a few bucks way to pay for pizza. (Assuming that some day we are going out for pizza with our friends again.)
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of several novels; hist latest is the forthcoming supernatural detective story All Souls Lost.