Apple’s Acquires Xnor.ai to Bolster Its Performance in AI Sector
Apple recently acquired Xnor.ai, a Seattle-based start-up that develops low-power, edge-based artificial intelligence tools. Apple didn’t disclose the terms of the deal, but GeekWire claimed that the deal was worth about $200 million. Apple reportedly paid a similar amount for Turi, another Seattle-based company that specializes in machine learning and AI, in 2016. Apple also recently acquired British AI start-up Spectral Edge for an undisclosed sum. But those acquisitions are just the tip of Apple’s AI iceberg. Apple has acquired over 20 AI companies since 2010. Apple also poached Google’s AI and search chief John Giannandrea in 2018. All these moves indicate that Apple is aggressively expanding its AI ecosystem, even though its applications are less visible than Google and Facebook’s implementation of AI for targeted ads, or Amazon’s use of AI for sorting product listings. It is quite well known that AI is slowly invading every industry, even online casinos. That day is not far when games like Online Bingo or Poker will be customised personally for the players by AI. Let’s delve into Apple’s AI plans and see how they could shape the tech giant’s future.
It’s all about the iPhone
Over the past decade, Apple’s AI acquisitions mainly focused on improving the iPhone with new features. It acquired Siri, the core virtual assistant of iOS, in 2010. Its acquisitions of computer vision companies like RealFace along with its development of first-party chips led to the launch of FaceID and other face-tracking features in 2017. Apple’s purchase of Xnor.ai complements those investments. The key idea behind Xnor.ai’s technology is the quantization of neural network weights and operations, reducing the number of bits needed to represent the numbers in the model.
What will Xnor.ai do for Apple?
Xnor.ai will provide Apple with edge computing capabilities that are in line with the Silicon Valley company’s interest in preserving data privacy(an issue that Apple CEO Tim Cook brought to the fore last year). Apple would presumably have a special appreciation for the fact that Xnor.ai’s tools can keep AI data secure on mobile devices rather than sending it to the cloud. The Xnor.ai acquisition points to Seattle’s rising role as a hotspot for innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, fostered by AI2’s incubator and UW as well as home-grown heavyweights such as Microsoft and Amazon. It also points to a rising nationwide tide for AI and its applications.
Xnor.ai’s Edge AI engine previously enabled the Wyze camera which competes against the pricier Amazon Ring and Google Nest Cam to recognize people, pets, and objects. But unlike Ring and Nest Cam, which process images remotely on the cloud, the Wyze camera processes them locally inside the camera for better privacy and security. Therefore, Xnor.ai’s tech could enhance the iPhone camera and its face-tracking capabilities without sacrificing a user’s privacy.
Xnor.ai estimates that Edge AI runs 10 times as fast with 15X memory than cloud-based systems, and a responsive assistant dedicated to each specific phone could finally let Apple build a voice recognition system with near-perfect accuracy. We’ve been waiting years for Siri to be able to do basic things like distinguishing between different users’ voices, and Edge AI could bring a great understanding of each user’s particular cadence. After all, we already know that Xnor.ai’s Wyze AI was able to distinguish people from pets, so using to differentiate voices shouldn’t be all that difficult.
Apple is depending heavily on the growth of its digital services like Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple TV, Apple Pay and other services to offset its sluggish iPhone sales. Looking further ahead, Apple could apply its acquired AI technologies to health care apps on Apple Watch, connected vehicles via CarPlay, or the augmented reality market, where it maintains a foothold with its ARKit platform for app developers. The updated Siri could also render the HomePod that lags behind Amazon and Google in the smart speaker industry.
The key takeaways
Apple’s investment in AI will not improve its near-term sales growth but will help enhance its hardware devices and add more users to its ecosystem services. Those changes will widen Apple’s pit and give it an advantage over Google’s dispersed universe of Android devices.