If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it dozens of times: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”
When it comes to its corporate acquisitions, Cupertino likes to play its cards very close to its chest. Of course, that doesn’t stop industry watchers from peering at the tea leaves to see if they can divine exactly what the company might be working on.
And, hey, I’m no different than those folks, because Apple does so little to telegraph its plans that even a boilerplate statement confirming an acquisition is a rare peek behind the curtain. Apple CEO Tim Cook said not long ago that the company makes an acquisition every two to three weeks, and not even all of those make it into the public eye. So let’s take a look at the firms that we do know Apple has acquired recently and see what we can glean.
Always in motion capture is the future
Back in October of last year, Apple quietly picked up IKinema Ltd., a company based in the UK that specializes in motion capture technology. That tech is the kind of thing that’s used in movies, TV, and video games to collect information about how a person or animal moves and then map it onto a virtual model. (Whenever you see behind-the-scenes images of people wearing those wacky suits, or little dots glued to their face, you’re seeing motion capture technology at work.)
Is Apple building out a special effects house for its burgeoning TV and film production arm? Not particularly likely. But this also isn’t the first motion-capture related company that Apple has bought. Way back in 2015, it acquired Faceshift, a company that used technology to capture facial expressions and translate them onto digital avatars—technology that likely did become Animoji/Memoji.
While it seems somewhat unlikely that Apple would buy an entire company simply in order to make those animations a little more accurate, what if IKinema will help extend that feature beyond just facial expressions and into the rest of the body as well? It wouldn’t surprise me to see Apple at work on a digital avatar system that people could use to represent themselves not only in FaceTime calls and iMessages but perhaps even online. (Especially if it doesn’t require you to wear a weird suit or a bunch of dots.)
The bleeding edge of photography
Maybe Apple had some sort of “buy one UK company, get one UK company free” deal going: in December, it acquired Spectral Edge, a startup also based in Great Britain, which specializes in computational photography. In particular, Spectral Edge’s tech combined images taken from traditional cameras along with images from infrared cameras to create better quality photos. This approach seems to produce images with richer colors that look closer to…