7 Secretive Acquisitions That Have Transformed Apple

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Bobby Yip / REUTERS

Apple bought Topsy, a social analytics firm, for more than $200 million, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. It’s still not clear what Apple aims to do it with it, but there are plenty of possibilities—delving into its troves of Twitter data for one, or mining its analytics technology. The Topsy purchase extends a streak of secretive acquisitions that have then or likely will show up in future Apple technology—and each time the world’s most valuable company responds to inquiries with an evergreen statement acknowledging only that: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Here are some of the acquisitions that have led to the Apple we know today (and will meet tomorrow):

1. PrimeSense – Nov. 2013

Apple acquired PrimeSense, an Israeli firm that makes motion-tracking chip technology that helps detect 3D objects, for about $350 million, Bloomberg reported. The depth-sensor was already used in Microsoft’s Kinect for its Xbox 360 game console, but in a phone it has the potential to, among plenty of possibilities, measure depths, navigate indoors, or shop a 3D catalogue, Bloomberg notes.

2. HopStop and Locationary – July 2013

After an embarrassing maps app debut last year, Apple made a series of acquisitions to help heal its wounds and improve the app (Apple made a series of mapping acquisitions beforehand too). HopStop, bought in an acquisition reported in July, is a transit-navigation service that provides users with the fastest way to travel by foot, bike, car or subway—helpful for the Apple app that has notoriously misdirected users and lacked public transport directions. Locationary, whose purchase was reported the same month, provides business-location maps. Apple later bought another transit mapping service, Embark, reported in August.

3. Cue – Oct. 2013

Google and Apple are butting heads over the next best personal assistant app—Google Now versus Apple’s Today—that compiles data from users’ emails and activity to provide them with all they need to know.  Some say Google has the lead, and Apple may have been playing a game of catch-up when it reportedly bought Cue in October for more than $40 million. The app, reportedly also targeted by Drop Box, provided users with personal agendas based primarily on their email content.

4. AuthenTec – 2012

Apple put in $356 million into purchasing AuthenTec (the only public company on this list), a technology security company that specialized in—you guessed it: the fingerprint sensor featured in Apple’s iPhone 5S released in September.

5. C3 Technologies – 2011

By the time word surfaced that Apple had acquired the 3D mapping company C3 Technologies, rumors were already circulating that Apple was planning to challenge Google maps. That’s in part because Apple had already picked up mapping software Placebase and another 3D mapping firm, Poly9. Apple Maps launched in Sept. 2012.

6. Siri –2010
Apple acquired an impressive but very new speech recognition app in 2010 that branded itself as a personal assistant. The app, called Siri, was at the time also under development for Blackberry and Android. Of course, Apple instead integrated the app into its operating system and made the feature a mainstay of the iPhone.
7. P. A. Semi – 2008

When Apple picked up P.A. Semi, a low-power chipmaker, in negotiations led by Steve Jobs, it was hailed as a possible new development for the iPod and iPhone and an interesting strategic decision by Apple. But Apple may have been thinking farther down the line: the boutique firm also helped design chips for the revolutionary iPad, released in 2010.