On Friday, a report by Axios revealed that Apple has purchased the AI company PullString. When PullString (also known as ToyTalk) started in 2011, its main focus was on creating voice apps for children’s toys. The company later got into voice recognition apps and contributed to the development of both Alexa and Google Assistant.
Presumably, the goal is to use the acquisition to improve the voice recognition capabilities of Apple’s Siri, which lags behind its two competitors. The report also claims that Apple paid a cool $30 million upfront, plus another $10 million in potential earn-outs for management, for the company.
PullString was founded by Pixar executives in San Francisco and the current CEO, Oren Jacob, used to be Pixar’s Chief Technology Officer.
Despite being behind the Hello Barbie privacy debacle of 2015 in which the technology was easily hacked and used to spy on children, the company raised more than the $44 million in venture capital and their most recent post-money valuation was estimated at over $160 million.
Once demands for voice recognition apps grew, PullString found its footing. PullString is backed by several leading firms, including True Ventures, Greylock, Khosla Ventures, First Round Capital, and CRV.
Why Apple Needs PullString
In the context of voice recognition technology, Siri is no match for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The thousands of skills, actions, and integrations that Google and Amazon offer dwarf Siri’s abilities.
In an era where home assistants are competing for dominance and connecting to a wide range of other gadgets in the Internet of Things, it is crucial that Apple keeps up. Until now, Apple has consistently shied away from adopting trends started by other companies. But it appears the stakes are too high to keep playing it cool.
PullString will no doubt be tasked with giving Siri that extra edge in developing her “voice.” While Google and Amazon continue to invest heavily in this area, PullString will pull Siri back into the game.
Apple’s 2018 introduction of Google machine intelligence veteran John Giannandrea as their new senior vice president of Machine Learning and AI Strategy adds fuel to the speculation that Siri is about to change for the better.