Apple is pulling up its socks in the AI race and as part of its latest efforts, the iPhone maker has reportedly acquired a San Francisco-based AI startup called Pullstring – also known as ToyTalk. The startup helps companies design and publish voice-based apps which leverage existing voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant.
According to Axios, which reported the buyout citing multiple sources, Pullstring may help Apple’s Siri better compete with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant by offering tools for voice developers looking to integrate services into the Apple ecosystem. The acquisition of Pullstring has yet to be confirmed by Apple, even with its regular boilerplate response.
Pullstring was founded in 2011 by a group of former Pixar executives and was used originally to power interactive voice apps for toys, including Hello Barbie and Thomas The Tank Engine toys in partnership with Mattel. It has gone on to raise up to $44 million.
The startup later broadened its service with the introduction of IoT-enabled gadgets such as Amazon Echo and Google Assistant. Axios reports “The upfront deal value is said to be around $30 million, plus around $10 million in potential earn-outs for management. That would include CEO Oren Jacob, who once served as Pixar’s CTO.”
A report by TechCrunch speculates the buyout could help Apple start off speech-activated toys lineup. TechCrunch separately claims to have received confirmation of the acquisition from people with knowledge of the deal, but didn’t have anything further to add in terms of the value of the deal.