Apple buys startup to build ’˜smarter’ products for home

The latest acquisition from Apple has been announced as startup Silk Labs – seeming to indicate a clear focus on building up an AI-powered smart home ecosystem in the near future.

You may not have heard of software company Silk Labs, but Apple’s newly announced ownership of the company sheds light on the current strategy of the manufacturer.

Although it earned kudos for its audio performance, Apple’s HomePod smart speaker feels singular and disparate compared to Google and Amazon devices’ long list of system integrations (and hasn't been as popular as hoped). HomeKit has been furthermore been accused of being an overly closed platform by some. But outwardly Apple may be hoping to change all this by building smarter products. And buying Silk Labs, a machine learning company using on-device AI to support the development of “intelligent” connected devices (following on from a number of other AI-related investments) would certainly help with this.

Founded in 2015 and funded with $4 million prior to the acquisition, Silk Labs has worked on developing image and audio recognition technologies over the years, and was founded by former Mozilla employees Andreas Gal, Chris Jones and Michael Vines. Its sole ‘launch’ to date was a crowd-funded smart home monitoring ‘Sense’ camera incorporating facial and object recognition and 3rd party integration with the likes of Sonos and IoT-based lighting systems (that never actually came to fruition), in 2016.

The company and its small team have been bought by an undisclosed sum by Apple.

Interestingly, the startup has a strong emphasis on an area a number of IoT products (and occasionally Apple) are called out for lacking focus on: security. So, in addition to helping it bring out products that can do, Apple also (hopefully) can pin down keeping users of smart home products’ information safe. Silk Labs says its algorithm only sends "key" video moments to the cloud rather than of a constant stream of information, and that all data is kept anonymous on its platform.

Last year, Apple shelled out $200 million for machine learning and AI company Lattice Data and earlier this year it hired Google’s search and AI chief, John Giannandrea, indicating its strong focus on AI development.