Apple wasn’t the only tech giant eyeing Xnor.ai.
GeekWire broke the news on Wednesday that Apple acquired Seattle startup Xnor.ai, paying around $200 million for the three-year-old company that specializes in low-power, edge-based artificial intelligence tools.
Other large corporations were interested in the startup, too. Sources confirmed to GeekWire that Intel and Amazon had formal discussions with Xnor.ai.
The Financial Times reported that Microsoft also approached the company.
Xnor.ai has been moving its staff of roughly 70 employees out of the company’s offices in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, presumably to Apple’s Seattle facilities.
Corporate filings that were made in Delaware, a popular locale for incorporation services, suggest that the Xnor.ai deal started taking shape in late November, hit a critical point in late December and reached its conclusion last week. Apple’s identity, however, was shrouded through the use of a business entity with a different name — which is a common practice for high-profile acquisitions.
The widespread interest in Xnor.ai reflects a growing demand for AI-enabled image recognition tools that can be used in various devices.
Xnor.ai’s secret sauce had to do with AI on the edge — machine learning and image recognition tools that can be executed on low-power devices rather than relying on the cloud.
“We make ‘AI everywhere’ a reality by enabling leading global brands to run state-of-the-art deep learning models on anything from a $2 batteryless piece of hardware to the cloud,” Xnor.ai co-founder Ali Farhadi told GeekWire when Xnor.ai was nominated for an AI innovation award last year. “We empower any developer to deploy countless AI models optimized for the edge with just a single line of code, a future where ‘AI for everyone’ is real.”
Xnor.ai will provide Apple with edge computing capabilities that are in line with the Silicon Valley company’s interest in preserving data privacy — an issue that Apple CEO Tim Cook brought to the fore last year.
Axios reported last year that AI acquisitions reflect a need for big tech companies to secure scarce AI expertise. Apple in particular has been hungry for AI startups, leading all tech companies for related acquisitions in 2019, according to CBInsights.
GeekWire’s Alan Boyle and Kevin Lisota contributed to this report.