Apple has reportedly agreed to acquire PullString, a San Francisco-based startup focused on the design and publishing of voice-powered apps.
The acquisition was first reported by Axios, which indicated that the purchase price could be around $30 million with another $10 million in earn-outs for managerial staff. Other than that, there weren’t many other details available about the purchase.
But based on what PullString develops, there’s a good chance the move was made to boost Siri.
PullString develops voice app design tools and artificial intelligence platforms that power voice-based experiences. Essentially, it helps create technologies for Alexa apps.
It was first founded back in 2011 and originally focused on interactive voice apps for toys — including the Hello Barbie platform. But it expanded its voice approach to more popular platforms like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
Purchasing PullString could do several things for Apple. But perhaps more importantly, it could give Apple a jumpstart in creating a smart assistant platform that supports the creation and publication of third-party developer skills or apps.
On its website, PullString says its platform can be used to “collaboratively design, prototype and publish voice applications for Amazon Alexa.”
Part of that may be making the voice app design process easier for smaller developers. SiriKit is notoriously complex and feature-lacking. PullString’s Converse platform, on the other hand, lets developers easily visualize and map out voice experiences.
One of the most commonly heard criticisms about Siri as a digital assistant is its lack of versatility compared to platforms like Alexa or Google Assistant. Amazon and Google both allow third-party developers to create and publish their own voice apps and skills.
A similar feature for Siri and HomePod is badly needed, particularly since HomePod has struggled to gain any sort of significant foothold in the smart speaker market.
Apple appears to be softening its “walled-garden” approach to software, which may coincide with the growing importance of its services-based businesses. The acquisition of a startup that specifically focused on third-party voice apps may just be the latest sign of that.
Of course, Apple routinely snaps up smaller startups and firms without any sort of comment on their purpose. In other words, this acquisition doesn’t guarantee that a HomePod “skill store” is coming — but it does hint that Apple is mulling the possibility.