If you've ever complained of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) not putting its cash to good use, you're gonna love this.
No, I'm not talking about an unmerited increase to Apple's already-historic share repurchase authorization. And no, Apple hasn't changed its hefty dividend, which resulted in $2.8 billion in payouts last quarter alone.
A better way to reward shareholders
I'm talking about innovation by way of strategic acquisition. You know, like when Apple's prophetically purchased fingerprint sensor specialist Authentec last year.
Specifically, during Apple's quarterly earnings conference call this week, CEO Tim Cook told investors Apple completed 15 strategic acquisitions in all of fiscal 2013.
For those of you keeping track, however, you might recall when Cook was asked why Apple "doesn't buy things with its money" at AllThingsD's D11 conference, he countered to note that, while Apple had previously maintained a respectable pace of acquiring a new company every 60-75 days -- or "maybe six a year" -- it had already purchased nine new companies at that point in the fiscal year.
Curious, I did a little back-of-the-napkin math at the time, which put Apple's pace then at around one acquisition every 27 days.
But Cook conveniently made those comments almost exactly four months and six acquisitions prior to the Sept. 28 conclusion of Apple's fiscal year, which puts its latest acquisition pace at roughly one every 20 days.
Apple's acquisitions are definitely accelerating, but the real question revolves around what, exactly, it plans to do with the companies it acquires.
Here's what's coming next
First, most notably included in the six most recent buys were a pair of public transit data companies in Hopstop.com and Embark, the purchases of which Apple confirmed in July and August, respectively. Also in July, and incidentally just hours before the HopStop news, came Apple's purchase of crowdsourcing specialist Locationary.
Clearly, then, mapping remains a big priority in Apple's efforts to save face after it fell short with last year's widely panned launch of Apple Maps. What's more, Apple also just launched a new Maps desktop client with OS X 10.9 Mavericks -- albeit largely to lukewarm reviews -- once again underscoring the strategic importance of mapping to the company. As it stands, though Google Maps is still the gold standard in both mobile and desktop, Apple's obviously piling a lot of money and resources into its own service.
So what else could be coming down the pipe?
Apple's August buy of video content aggregation company Matcha.tv, for one, has obvious Apple TV implications. For reference, before Matcha.tv joined Apple's ranks, it provided a website and apps aimed at aggregating content from multiple services like Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon.com's Prime to provide recommendations, integration with various social networks, and an organized list of TV shows and movies available across all of the sites.
Also in August, former Wall Street Journal tech writer Jessica Lessin uncovered Apple's acquisition of wireless chip developer Passif Semiconductor, which specializes in low-power communications chips that could be ideal for use in a streamlined wearable device -- say, perhaps, an iWatch with a tentative late-2014 launch date.
But despite their differences, these companies also have several things in common: Each was a relatively small start-up with minimal revenue of its own, but at the same time boasted innovative technology Apple could hope to keep under the radar while integrating into future products.
Call me crazy, but I think that's a brilliant way for Apple to build its business. After all, there's no sense in Apple reinventing the wheel when it can buy one for next to nothing relative to the size of its massive cash pile.
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