Apple buys artificial intelligence startup, but not necessarily for a smarter Siri

January 16, 2020, 12:02 AM UTC

Apple has quietly acquired, a Seattle-based artificial intelligence startup, for approximately $200 million, GeekWire reports. But that doesn’t mean a smarter Siri is on the roadmap—at least not yet.

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” an Apple spokesperson told Fortune in a statement.

Founded in 2017, was born inside the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a startup incubator founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Using the startup’s technology, a device can call on a local chipset—or the cloud—to answer A.I. queries, as well as improve images by removing blemishes or blurriness, among other functions.

Currently, most smartphone virtual assistant functions rely on cloud-based servers that identify a need for artificial intelligence and send directions back to the requesting device. So, if Siri is asked to turn off the lights, for instance, that query is sent over the internet to Apple’s cloud server, which interprets the request and sends a command back to the software to activate a function that turns off the desired lights. While it may all take milliseconds (ideally), it’s still a delayed process that burns battery life.

Ken Hyers, a director at Strategy Analytics in the research firm’s Emerging Device Technologies division, says Apple’s acquisition reflects where smartphone artificial intelligence is going.

“It’s a real trend in the industry to move artificial intelligence to the device,” Hyers says. “Google is focused on this, Samsung is working on this as well. Qualcomm with their latest Snapdragon chipsets is also doing it.”

But that doesn’t mean Siri will be any smarter as a result of the acquisition. While it’s possible that the startup’s technology could improve the latency on Apple’s virtual personal assistant, won’t be able to improve Siri’s abilities or boost its accuracy, Hyers says.

Instead, Hyers believes Apple will use’s artificial intelligence to analyze pictures users take and make on-the-fly enhancements to make them look better. Recently, had driven the people detection on low-cost Wyze cameras, a service it stopped providing in November, The Verge reports.

Apple, however, could easily use to make iPhones more attractive to shoppers. Strategy Analytics regularly polls consumers on their most-desired smartphone features, and Hyers says camera quality is always in the top three. “Anything that improves picture-taking is going to enhance the saleability of the device,” he says.

It typically takes companies about 18 months to integrate a new chipset into a phone, and since Hyers believes Apple will unveil new iPhones in September, there won’t likely be enough time for this year’s Apple products to take advantage of Xnor’s technology. But Hyers expects to see it integrated into iPhones, iPads, and other devices next year.

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