Apple bought a record 32 AI startups in 2023 as it aims to bring Siri upgrades to iPhone, Apple Vision Pro, and more

Siri on iOS 17 on an iPhone 14 Pro
(Image credit: Future / Apple)

You don't need to have been following along too closely to know that Apple has taken a huge interest in AI and generative AI in particular. A push into large language models (LLM) has seen Apple touted to make 2024 the year of AI, and that could have huge implications for the software updates that it is likely to unveil in June.

June will of course likely be the month that the annual Worldwide Developers Conference takes place or, as it's famously known, WWDC. The event is expected to see Apple debut iOS 18, watchOS 11, macOS 15, and more — and it might even give us a glimpse at visionOS 2.0 as well. The Apple Vision Pro is the hottest ticket in town right now and all eyes will be on Apple to see what it can do with its first big software update.

We've been hearing rumors of Apple's new focus on AI for some time now with the company thought to be setting up servers to cope with expansions that could change the way we all use our devices forever. But to make that happen Apple needs two things — people, and knowledge. They often come hand-in-hand with Apple already advertising new roles that focus on AI. But one way of getting experts in the field as well as any technology they've designed is to buy the company that they work for. And Apple has reportedly been very busy on that front. So busy, in fact, that no other tech firm has been able to compete.

So many new companies

According to a report by Stocklytics, Apple acquired no fewer than 32 different AI startups during the 2023 calendar year in an attempt to give it what it needs to catch up with the AI capabilities already shown by Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI.

The Stocklytics report notes that while Apple bought 32 AI companies, Google picked up 21 while Meta took over 18. Microsoft only acquired 17 AI startups by comparison.

"In the ongoing AI arms race, Apple is making sizeable deals with many AI startups, putting it in a good spot for future tech developments even as its competitors, Microsoft and Google, make considerable investments in already established AI companies," Stocklytics Finacial Analyst Edith Reads says. "By acquiring promising AI startups, Apple gains access to top-tier talent and innovative technologies and consolidates its foothold in crucial AI domains, ensuring a competitive edge in the rapidly evolving tech landscape."

Apple also today announced a new open-source text-powered image editing tool that could one day be built into Siri and other Apple initiatives. The tool allows people to provide an image and text commands on the changes they want including alterations to colors, sizing, and more. It's easy to imagine something like this being funneled into Siri for future Apple Vision Pro photo editing features, for example.

It isn't clear whether the new tool came from one of the 32 companies Apple acquired in 2023, but it's increasingly clear that Apple is keen to ensure that it closes the AI gap between its products and those offered by the competition. Both Google and Samsung heavily market AI-driven features features for their own flagship devices and Apple could look to do the same with an iOS 18-powered iPhone 16, too.

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Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.