Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) artificial intelligence assistant Siri may have lately fallen a bit behind Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) real-time and location-based app Google Now, but with the Cupertino company's recent purchase of Topsy Labs, it may be looking to take Google Now head on.
Topsy is a social media analytics company with direct access to all of Twitter's tweets since 2006. The company currently takes all that data -- including about 500 million tweets every day -- and helps businesses analyze specific trends in the data. As Financial Times noted, when the Make-A-Wish Foundation hosted an event for a fiver-year-old boy with leukemia to play Batman for a day in San Francisco, Topsy figured out that 5% of Californian tweets were about the bat kid event that day, and also ferreted out who the biggest Twitter influencers were.
Sifting through huge quantities of social media data and extracting trends and information can be an important tool, especially when taking into account all the real-time information-sharing happening on Twitter. This is where Apple's acquisition of Topsy comes in.
The purchase of Topsy for about $200 million has lead many to wonder why exactly Apple would make such a purchase. Speculation of improving iAd or iTunes recommendations has popped up, but Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster thinks the move is geared toward improving Siri. In an investor note today, Munster wrote, "We believe there is an indirect, more important reason for acquiring Topsy and our best guess is that Apple could use the analytics platform to improve their services, particularly Siri. We believe Apple could use Topsy data to integrate things like current events and recent trends into Siri and Maps to create an experience more competitive with Google Now."
If he's right -- and investors should hope that he is -- then Siri could become a much better personal assistant and start catching up to Google Now. Though Siri has improved over the past few years, it lacks some of the same real-time integration that Google Now has. Google updated its Search app for iOS, which houses Google Now, back in August and provided iPhone users with the same features Android users enjoy. That encroachment on Apple's turf hasn't gone unnoticed, and Topsy may be part of Apple's response.
Integrating the Topsy platform into Siri could allow the personal assistant to search more real-time information and current events that would make Siri much more useful. With the iOS 7 upgrade, Apple added the ability to ask Siri to search Twitter, and also taps into Twitter for certain answers, but it still falls short in delivering relevant data the same way Google Now does.
While improving Siri won't add anything to Apple's bottom line, it plays an important part in differentiating iOS devices from Android devices. Technical specs of high-end phones are basically identical these days, and the best way for Apple and others to stand out is by offering superior services. Apple may have just made a step further down that path if it can successfully integrate Topsy into Siri.
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