April 20, 2024


Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks before the start of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at its headquarters in 2023.

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks before the start of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at its headquarters in 2023.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Big Tech is swallowing up AI companies, with Apple quietly leading the pack. Meta, Microsoft, Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Nvidia, and Apple have closed acquisitions of 88 AI and machine learning companies over the past two decades, according to PitchBook data reviewed by Quartz.

Microsoft purchased Nuance Communications in 2022 for a record $19 billion, the highest price tag for any of the tech firms’ AI deals. Nuance’s AI tools are used in Microsoft’s cloud products for healthcare. It recognizes and transcribes speech during doctor’s visits, calls, and voicemails. While Microsoft spent the most on a single deal, Apple is the biggest buyer of AI firms by number of companies.

Apple has purchased more than 20 AI startups from 2017 through last year, which is about twice the number that each Microsoft and Meta bought during that time frame. Apple’s biggest deal occurred in 2013, when it bought Israeli motion-sensing hardware and software company PrimeSense — which is more on the “machine learning” side of the spectrum. Apple’s top strictly-AI deal was its $200 million purchase of Xnor.ai, a Seattle startup focused on AI-powered image recognition tools, in 2020.

AI acquisitions in the tech industry peaked in value in 2021, and both the value and number of deals has been on the decline since, especially as regulators apply greater antitrust scrutiny to the tech industry.

But that hasn’t stopped major tech companies from finding ways to work around them. Microsoft, for example, “acqui-hired” Inflection AI, paying a licensing fee to hire most of its staff in March. And Apple defied the downward mergers and acquisitions (M&A) trend when it bought Canadian startup DarwinAI earlier this year.



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