What Apple’s Acquisitions in 2016 Tell Us about 2017 and Beyond

Carolina Milanesi / January 4th, 2017

There is a lot of speculation about the “iPhone 8” and what Apple should be focusing on in 2017 in order to stay ahead of the game or, for some, barely keep up with competition. Despite some safe bets on the new iPhone features that can be extrapolated from supply-chain clues, guessing, even correctly, what Apple will do is almost as unlikely as winning the lottery. I thought, however, that looking at the 2016 acquisitions would give us more than a clue as to where Apple will focus in the future and I share my wish list of what I would like to see come out of Cupertino.

What Apple Acquired in 2016 (that we know of)

Emotient is a startup that uses artificial-intelligence technology to decipher people’s emotions by analyzing their facial expressions. The technology can be used for a number of things including detecting pain, reading reactions to content or situations we are exposed to – think advertising and retail. Emotient had been granted a patent for a method of collecting and labeling as many as 100,000 facial images a day that can be used to teach computers to better recognize facial expressions.

LearnSprout is a San Francisco-based startup focusing on tools that help teachers monitor students’ attendance, grades, and other school activities through easier access to school information systems. One of the purposes of collecting such information and making it available to teachers was to help identify at-risk students.

Flyby Media is a company that worked with Google on Project Tango. Flyby Media developed technology that allows mobile phones to see and scan, through the camera, the world around them. The company’s website also said they were developing the next generation of consumer mobile-social applications that connect the physical and the digital worlds.

LegbaCore is a firmware security company that specializes in “digital voodoo” or security at the deepest and darkest levels of computer systems. Apple was first exposed to them as they were battling Thunderstrike 2, the first super-worm to successfully attack Macs.

Carpool Karaoke is a popular show Apple licensed 16 episodes of and is to be produced (but not hosted) by James Corden as well as Ben Winston, the “Late Late Show’ executive producer. Tim Cook and Corden kicked off Apple’s September event with a special edition of Carpool Karaoke.

Turi is a machine learning and artificial intelligence startup focused on tools that help enterprises make better sense of data. Turi also enables developers to build apps with machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities that automatically scale and tune.

Gliimpse is a Silicon Valley-based company that built a personal health data platform that enables any American to collect, personalize, and share a picture of their health data. The focus was particularly around cancer and diabetes patients.

Tuplejump is an Indian-based machine learning company specializing in software that processes and analyzes big sets of data quickly.

Indoor.io is a Finnish company focusing on indoor location and mapping.

Acquisitions Show Clear Areas of Focus but How It Will Materialize is Still Unclear

If you look at the list above, aside from the clear outlier of Carpool Karaoke, the focus for Apple seems centered around artificial intelligence, augmented reality, enterprise and education.

Artificial intelligence is probably the best example of how different the expectations vs. what Apple delivers might be. For many, artificial intelligence simply boils down to how smart Siri is. However, intelligence in devices is expressed in many different ways. Learning which color emoji is your preference, learning your most likely route at a given time of the day, understanding a reference to a time and a place in an email and setting up an appointment for you are all examples of how “intelligence” can be used to make our experiences better.

Machine learning and fast data processing are key to feeding the brain of any artificial intelligence. Analyzing millions of data points to discover patterns that can help predictability is very important in lowering response times and increase accuracy in our exchanges with an assistant like Siri. Being able to detect users emotions might play a role in that interaction. For the assistant to know if we are getting frustrated or anxious might help with our interaction in the same way it would between two humans.

Augmented reality is an area in which Tim Cook has expressed interest and excitement. Aside from gaming which, of course, is a big part of what iPhones are used for, there are commercial experiences that could benefit from an augmented reality, mixed reality, merged reality or whatever else you want to call this blend of real and digital worlds.

Enterprise is becoming more and more important for Apple and security plays a big role in selling devices to enterprise. iPhones and iPads continue to penetrate organizations, becoming more of a target for hackers. Apple needs to stay ahead of the game. While consumers might not always recognize how important security is, Apple has been very passionate about security for quite some time. As we use our devices, not just to store pictures and contacts info but payment information, health information, smart home connections, we want our devices, as well as our data, to not to be accessible to people with bad intentions.

In education, the battle to displace Chromebooks in K-12 will intensify in 2017, with Microsoft eyeing that segment as a growth opportunity for Windows. For Apple not to have iPads forced to compete on price alone but in adding value to their offering beyond devices is important. Looking at applications and tools to educate as well as manage students is certainly a way to do that.

My Wish List for 2017

Considering the areas I have discussed above, there are a few things I would like to see Apple focusing on in 2017.

A More Conversational Siri – I have mentioned before how my relationship with Siri has been improving over time. This is good and bad at the same time. Good because I appreciate it. Bad because I want more. As my dependence on Siri grows, first in my car and then everywhere through my AirPods, I want Siri to rely less on my iPhone screen and become more conversational. Apple understands that less time looking at my screen does not mean I will think any less of my iPhone but I realize that, for conversational AI, the progress will be slow.

More Tools for Education – Swift Playgrounds was a great example of how Apple could do more to future proof our kids with the kind of skills they will need when they grow up. AI is here to stay and, instead of worrying about the threat of job losses, we should be investing in preparing the next generation with the set of skills required to get a job. While this is a much bigger issue than any single company could solve, I think Apple is in a good place to get kids engaged at an early age, not just with coding and problem-solving skills, but also with fostering creativity, imagination, and innovation.

Better Collaboration Tools – Collaboration is broader than just working with someone else. While I would like to see Apple focus on better collaboration tools for work, it is at home I more urgently need help. If you have kids, you know running a home is as complex as running a company. School and after-school activities, and work all blend together to create a scheduling nightmare only resolved with great collaboration skills.

More than any other company, Apple owns households and I would like to see more apps and tools to help households come together; not just for scheduling but also for monitoring and sharing. Without wanting Apple to give me whatever the digital equivalent of my daughter’s journal key is, I want to make sure my daughter is safe when she is online. Of course, teaching her how to do so is the first thing but there are more steps Apple could take to provide increased safety without hindering the experience. I am hoping machine learning will help with creating a more proactive approach to online safety as whitelisting websites, which is currently what most solutions boil down to, does not make for a rich experience. Sharing not just content but access to our smart homes across devices and family members could also be improved. Helping make our home life easier will pay dividends, especially at a time when the fight to own our home is intensifying among digital assistants. While having an assistant that connects with many smart home devices is valuable, having one that does not let me forget to pick up my kid from karate is priceless.

The Devil Is in The Detail

As you can see, my list is not about iPhone features and sexy new technologies. It is about practical experiences that improve my everyday life, something Apple has done for a long time. Something, however, that is hard to see when you first buy a product and something that is hard to market at point of sale. The challenge for Apple will be to continue to stay focus on delivering better experiences, rather than getting distracted by proving they can innovate by delivering sexy gadgets.

Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc. She focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services she analyses today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech she drove thought leadership research. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role she lead the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets and PCs.
  • klahanas

    “It is about practical experiences that improve my everyday life, something Apple has done for a long time.”
    As have others without the excessive narrative…
    And that’s not pointed specifically to you. It’s a “mob narrative”.

    • Toukale

      What is the point of your comment here? Is it to simply criticize the person because they wrote something about a company you can’t stand?

      • klahanas

        What is the point of yours? I was I belive quite clear.

        There’s an echo chamber, and we need more and different sounds.

        • PhilipGBaker

          I think it’s fascinating to learn what companies Apple has acquired. With the company being so secretive and having a very big NIH, it could be an indicator of future products. My take is how few companies they did acquire, and how uninteresting many of them are that are on the list. They seem to be very conservative, having missed some of the more obvious ones in the past such as Waze.

          • klahanas

            I don’t disagree, and I actually tempered my response for this specific article. If you look at the proportion of articles on Techpinions they are vastly, beyond a Trump landslide (see what I did there?), Apple articles.

            Adding that IMO, they generally go soft on shortcomings, I feel compelled to point out the shortcomings ever more.
            Statement like “that improve my everyday life…” without context that is the tech, not just the company, give it a testimonial air found in advertising.

            PS-Shopping for tech is not developing tech. And that applies to everyone. What one does with it after acquisition might matter.

          • Toukale

            I think you are the one with the issue. If this site seems heavily Apple centric on it’s coverage then that tells me a large percentage of its visitors/readers come here for the Apple contents. So to please you, the site should move away from what a large portion of it’s readers/visitors want. Why don’t you just ask them to close shop while you are at it.

            Like it or not, Apple is not going anywhere anytime soon, and its clear to most of us who are paying attention that a large percentage of users in the Apple community play a large role on keeping and helping a lot of site afloat by either contributing with their wallets or visits Apple related articles. It’s one of the reasons why sites/writers somehow always feel the need to insert Apple in whatever conversion/articles. Like you they need to pay their bills too.

          • klahanas

            All the more that counter point be raised. See, the “tech” part is different and distinct from the “pinions” part.
            Otherwise fair enough. I’m not denying anyone, just a PSA! 😉

            PS-I just paid my renewal today as well, so I’m a contributing participant not only in dialogue, but financially as well.

          • Vadim Dumin

            I like the “pinions” (mechanical) part – it allows to move discussion to a different plane using an analogy.

          • klahanas

            Just making sure I get my money’s worth!

          • PhilipGBaker

            Perhaps because more have (tech)opinions about Apple and they are the company that fascinates so many.

          • klahanas

            Or there’s a disproportionate congregation.
            I come here because there’s something to debate.

          • obarthelemy

            Meh, 80% of users are on Android, and most innovations by far happens on Android too. Whether you’re looking for real-life impact or upcoming trends, looking more closely at what’s happening outside the iBubble would make a lot of sense.

            Examples of things hat happened in 2016:
            – excellent phones at $150
            – Tango
            – Daydream
            – Pixel phones
            – Pixel C

            None of that got… non-reviewed, nor even analyzed from a “user benefits” perspective. Yet even the very iterative iPhone (OIS ! yeah !!!) update did…

            Also in the worrying category, the deep non-knowledge about anything non-Apple. Being told that Windows doesn’t have keyboard shortcuts for cut-and-paste, that wirefree earbuds are a new thing…

            And finally, more worryingly, some quite partisan stuff suddenly stopped being reported on (here and at Asymco): web activity by platform, ecosystem (app+ad) revenue. I assume it means Android widened the gap ;-p…

            Opinions are the one thing in the world everyone and anyone has too many of. It’s the data and reasoning to back them up that’s interesting.

          • Vadim Dumin

            Apple offered Waze $500 million after the fiasco with Apple maps and at the end they were acquired by Google for $1.3 billion.

          • PhilipGBaker

            $1.3 billion is a bargain, and pocket change for Apple. Apple Maps still trying to catch up and will likely never recover.

          • Vadim Dumin

            Waze was hot stuff. Facebook also offered to buy them. They probably felt that Google suits their culture more. Now Google just needs to buy Yelp to nicely round features for POI road explorer.

          • obarthelemy

            I’m surprised Apple hasn’t bought into HERE maps. My understanding is that HERE is fairly open about partners ?

          • Vadim Dumin

            Being “open about partners” is not necessarily a good thing. Being owned by the association of auto concerns, HERE is probably playing a card from Nokia-Symbian deck and we know how a collective ownership ended in this case.

          • obarthelemy

            Symbian was an ecosystem that needed a lot of buy-in from devs to flourish… and it didn’t even get that from Nokia.
            HERE I see more as a big data repo; there are costs to gather it, but no 3rd-party really needs to get involved ?

          • Vadim Dumin

            There were many problems with Symbian and we won’t touch on them here. The only commonality is that both HERE and Symbian were owned by Nokia before being passed to many partners. There is a Russian saying “Seven babysitters has a baby who is missing one eye” – this is what I am trying to convey.

          • klahanas

            “Being owned by the association of auto concerns”?

            What? You don’t like that? Apple is great because it owns the whole widget, thus offering a rich, integrated, curated experience from a single source. (As if that were the only way)

            Why “not” the auto concerns then?

          • Vadim Dumin

            Because I believe in a licensing out of a valuable shared asset rather than buying-in into it. Android(Google), ARM and Qualcomm are good examples of that.

          • klahanas

            Obviously, I agree with you. I don’t want too many eggs in one basket.

          • klahanas

            Gosh, I sure hope not. I use Here Maps on my WP, and I downloaded most the world on SD. You know, in case I get lost in the Sahara without an internet connection, I have Maps just when I need them most! ;-P
            (What?! I can be aspirational too!)

          • obarthelemy

            I think one of Apple’s issues is that they could buy into HERE, but not lock it down ;-p

          • obarthelemy

            Apple doesn’t have much of a NIH, they just ave something against loss of revenue/lock-in from open standards that often come with 3rd parties.
            As long as the money flows in they don’t care where it comes from. They bought iTunes, Siri, MacOSX, Claris, a bunch of maps assets, PA-Semi…

          • klahanas

            They have an AIH…
            All Invented Here. Masters of rebranding! Great business skill, but full of BS.

  • Vadim Dumin

    I attended Emotient presentation in 2014 at the conference before they were acquired. They showcased how the participants faked emotions and their computer could pick and choose whether the emotion was real or faked. Good stuff. Facetime assistant anyone?

    • klahanas

      Non-consenting lie detector?

      • Vadim Dumin

        Possibly. At the experiment the participants put their hand in an icy water (or not) and displayed discomfort and computer could detect whether the situation was real or not.

        • klahanas

          Interesting, but that involved a physical stimulus. There may be involuntary motions in those cases.

          • Vadim Dumin

            This proves the point, doesn’t it? You can’t fake a reaction to a physical stimuli.

          • klahanas

            But the emotional ones…?

          • Vadim Dumin

            Can you expand on this? I am not quite sure what do you mean.

          • klahanas

            The physical stimuli, as we said, might trigger involuntary motions, some of which are facial expressions. This may or may not be true for emotional stimuli. If it is, the potential for truly being an involuntary lie detector is there. Alternatively, and just as critical, if you can fake a reaction to an emotional stimulus, then the darn thing don’t work.

          • Vadim Dumin

            But how do you label “fake”, “not fake” reaction to an emotional stimuli? It is very subjective, isn’t it?

          • klahanas

            I have no idea, I’m not selling the gizmo. They are!

            The way I read “emotion detector” is that it can tell whether emotions are real or faked. It’s their burden of proof, not mine.

            What was offered up was a response to a physical stimulus to demonstrate emotion detection. A physical stimulus may indeed induce a physical response. Here we are talking about emotion induced physical responses and the example you brought up does not cover that.

          • Vadim Dumin

            Here we come to the problem of using labeled data for AI – if data was labeled incorrectly it may affect the work of AI predictions for many generations to come. Emotient probably was trying to address this challenge by using a physical stimuli with results being more reliable if they used emotional stimuli with results hard to verify.

            Recent advances in neural networks argues for the use of non-labeled data for AI, where the algorithm is able to identify patterns and label the data itself. But that requires an extensive neural networks training , which is another can of worms.

          • klahanas

            And our exchange here is the very purpose of dialogue. Thank you.

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