Apple buys Twitter data analysis firm Topsy

Hardware-focused company moves into social networking by acquiring start-up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 5:27am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 6:28am

Apple has acquired social media search and analytics start-up Topsy, an unusual purchase for a hardware-focused company that has made few forays into social networking.

Apple confirmed the acquisition but would not say why it bought the company, which specialises in analysing Twitter data and providing insights into current sentiment on a variety of topics.

The Wall Street Journal, which reported the news earlier, cited people familiar with the deal as saying Apple paid over US$200 million.

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said.

Topsy did not respond to requests for comment.

The iPad and iPhone maker often does "bolt-on" acquisitions - small deals to acquire technology that is integrated into existing or future products. Many of its acquisitions in recent years have been angled towards improving hardware.

This year, it paid a reported US$350 million for Israeli 3D chip developer PrimeSense, perceived as an effort to incorporate gesture technology into its devices. And in 2008, it paid a reported US$280 million for a semiconductor designer that eventually yielded the current line of processors that power the iPhone and iPad.

Apple's main effort in social media has revolved around Ping, a music-centred social sharing network that was at one point integrated into its iTunes app. The service, which lets users post music tracks they like to a news feed, didn't catch on and was shut down.

But the gadget maker has been increasingly making it easier for people to share photos, videos and news through its devices and directly to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

It also operates iTunes Radio, an online streaming music service that competes with Pandora and could benefit from Topsy's data on consumer sentiment.

Speculation on Apple's motives ran the gamut on Monday, but some industry experts thought it likely that the company is looking to beef up customer-facing software.

"From an usage perspective, they can use it for the app store and iTunes," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi, who added that Topsy could be used, for instance, to better serve app recommendations to users.

"With apps, it is really difficult to find good recommendations," she said. "It's much harder to see what people use and why."