On Monday, Apple confirmed its $400 million acquisition of Shazam, in a move that could have repercussions for the retail business.
Shazam, which is best known for its song-recognition features, has been up to some interesting things this year — including the release of an augmented reality platform for brands. Its goal was to build on the visual recognition tech it started two years ago, but it likely grabbed the attention of partner and new owner Apple instead.
The technology allows people to scan books, magazines, ads and other items with their smartphones to call up related content, such as 3-D animations, product visualizations, 360-degree videos. That lines up with Apple’s interests: This year, the iPhone maker threw in with augmented reality, releasing ARKit software tools for the creation of AR apps and more powerful phones that can run them.
Onstage at the iPhone event in September, Apple showcased Snapchat lenses and other AR features that its mobile devices are capable of running. Lenses have been a fun, new way for brands of all kinds to engage with consumers, and they’ve spawned new e-commerce initiatives, such as letting L’Oreal customers try digital makeup or hair color before buying, for instance. Paired with Shazam’s platform, the phone can become a more robust AR hub that drives consumer interest in the real world.
The other reason the deal makes sense for Apple: It’s challenged by voice technology. Granted, the market’s still figuring out voice commerce, but the company’s even further behind the curve. Apple watchers believe Siri’s slow evolution, as compared to Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant, is why it delayed the HomePod smart speaker.
Now it’s buying a business that specializes in sound-recognition technology. Voice-powered retail may be primed for a major leap forward if driven by the world’s most popular smartphone and its companion home speaker. But to get there, Apple would need to beef up its voice recognition system, along with the machine learning capabilities to processing natural language.
Beyond its public statements, there’s plenty of evidence that Apple’s commitment to AR, artificial intelligence and voice is driving its roadmap. Consider the company’s other acquisitions and deals over the past few months: The company bought Regaind, a French computer vision startup, in September and Vrvana, an AR display company, the month prior. It also picked up SensoMotoric Instruments, a business specializing in eye-tracking technology, and init.ai, an artificial intelligence-driven messaging assistant provider, earlier this year.
Obviously, the Shazam purchase will come with some benefits baked in for music. Apple won’t have to pay the service commissions for referring users to iTunes, a business that’s estimated to be as much as 10 percent of all digital download sales. And if the company chooses to give Apple Music a leg up by shuttering the Shazam app, it would effectively stifle a major referral pipeline to music streaming competitors Spotify and Google.
But songs may be only part of the story. It’s everything else that could be the real music to Apple’s ears. And, by extension, the retail sector’s as well.