From the standpoint of this gadget geek, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) obsession with perfecting the user experience provided by its hardware is something of a mixed blessing, as it can lead to some pretty basic and widely deployed technologies, such as Adobe's (Nasdaq: ADBE ) Flash and unrestricted multitasking, being left on the scrap heap for the sake of satisfying Steve Jobs' unique vision of how an MP3 player, a cell phone, or a tablet should act. But there's no denying that Apple is one of a kind in the consumer electronics world in terms of trying to get every last detail right with its products, and its latest acquisitions show the good side to this obsession.
A recent acquisition, processor specialist Intrinsity, is believed to have developed the microprocessor core used by Apple's A4 chip to power the iPad. Apple, with Intrinsity's help, clearly did a phenomenal job of designing the A4, which is the biggest factor behind the iPad's lightning-quick performance -- easily better than the iPhone or iPod Touch, which rely on third-party processors -- and also one of the main factors behind its superb battery life. The ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH ) processor design that Intrinsity's core is based on typically only reaches a top speed of 650 MHz, but Intrinsity's engineers managed to get it up to 1 GHz, all while keeping power consumption down.
By acquiring Intrinsity and its design team, Apple not only provides a boost to its chip design efforts for future hardware -- expect future versions of the iPhone and iPod Touch, and maybe also Apple TV, to run on siblings of the A4 -- but also keeps Intrinsity's innovative technology out of the hands of third parties and adds to the processing expertise the company started building with its 2008 acquisition of P.A. Semi.
Apple's other recent acquisition, Siri, makes a "personal assistant" app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. In a nutshell, the app allows users to find relevant information by doing voice-activated searches for things like nearby restaurants, movie times, and local weather. According to TechCrunch, Siri's app currently supports 40 services that can deliver such information, including Yahoo! Local and Citysearch, but could theoretically support thousands.
As with Intrinsity, Apple's motivation for snapping up Siri probably centers around innovative technology. With the help of a $200 million DARPA grant to former parent SRI International, Siri has integrated some top-shelf voice recognition technology into its software. And also like Intrinsity, Apple probably bought Siri with the goal of vastly expanding the applications that the company's technology is used for.
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is putting a lot of legwork into boosting the voice-recognition feature set built into Android devices, as demonstrated by the impressive capabilities of its Nexus One phone. I'm guessing that Apple wants to counter not only by expanding the number of Internet services supported by Siri's software, but also by integrating the underlying technology into its Voice Control software for handling basic functions on the iPhone.
Hopefully, the Intrinsity and Siri acquisitions throw some cold water onto some of the crazier Apple buyout rumors floating around right now, such as the reports of Apple's interest in snapping up ARM. Even if you ignore the fact that an ARM acquisition probably wouldn't sit well either with regulators or many of ARM's customers, Apple's making it clear once again that it's much more comfortable swallowing minnows than whales. In particular, tech-savvy minnows that can help the company along in delivering a "perfect" user experience.
Got any ideas on what minnows Apple should look to next? Drop a line in the comments area below.