Apple Acquires Voice-Tech Company Behind ‘Hello Barbie’

Apple is looking to make some noise in the rapidly growing voice-technology field.

According to a report in Axios, the company has purchased PullString, a San Francisco startup whose technology has been incorporated into such devices as Google Home and Amazon’s Echo.

Founded in 2011 by former Pixar executives, PullString was initially known as ToyTalk, and specialized in high-tech children’s entertainment. In 2015, ToyTalk was crucial to the development of Mattel’s innovative (and controversial) Hello Barbie. The doll, which allowed children to converse with the iconic Barbie character, was criticized over potential privacy and security concerns, as well as for such retrograde one-liners as, “Let’s chat about fashion!”

The company changed its name to PullString in 2016, and began to expand into other areas of voice-driven applications, working with such clients as HBO, Amazon, and Activision.

The acquisition comes during the midst of a boom in the smart-device market. Amazon has reportedly sold more than 100 million devices powered by Alexa, its voice-activated program, including including Echo and Echo Dot. The company has been competing in the smart-device field with Google, whose Home devices have also increased in popularity.

Apple, however, has largely been seen as an also-ran in the voice-technology race. Though the company’s Siri application was an early example of how consumer products and voice-powered technology could successfully merge together, the company’s HomePod device, introduced last year, failed to break through with consumers. The PullString deal, reportedly worth about $30 million, is a clear sign the company wants to turn up the volume.

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