Rarely thought of as best in class players in the voice space, Apple is the latest big company to acquire voice technology talent through its acquisition of PullString, a startup that makes voice experience design tools. The experiences of other challengers in this space are instructive.

Apple’s $30m acquisition of PullString, also known as ToyTalk, reported by Axios, reflects Apple’s efforts to better compete with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Siri was first released in 2011, along with the release of iOS 5. That same year, PullString was founded by a group of former Pixar executives, focusing on voice apps for toys. It’s most visible platform was the technology’s inclusion in the Hello Barbie toy in 2015.

It’s core offer, and presumably the prime interest for Apple, is the startup’s voice-app development platform. As well as Mattel, the company has worked with agency AKQA in 2017 to launch an Alexa skill for the Destiny 2 Ghost game on behalf of client Activision. On top of the development platform, PullString also operates a conversation cloud product to power conversational experiences “on any device”, according to its website.

SiriKit, Apple’s voice development platform has been criticized for being both too complex and lacking features, PullString’s visual mapping interface could jump-start development on Apple’s platform, which has the HomePod, but not nearly as much market penetration as Amazon or Google.

In an in-depth feature from last year, TechCrunch looked into PullString’s system, noting the advantages of visual mapping, as well as the software’s ability to leverage the history of the person interacting, and support for dynamic content.

The technology offers significant upstream opportunities for Apple, according to Barry Levine, writing in Martech Today. “If Apple does integrate the PullString acquisition in that way, Siri could become a substantial resource in marketers’ toolkit. At the moment, there is no dominant platform for building voice-based agents by non-technical users, and an Apple-based PullString could fill that bill.”

Such a new space, however, has caused headaches to other tech giants. Samsung, for instance, made headlines with its acquisition of Viv Labs for $215m in 2016. The tech was, frankly, stunning. Viv processes complex conversational queries in a similar way to how people actually speak, and has the ability to create code to perform new tasks. This allows you to ask it a long and complicated query, and for it to write a new program on your phone in order to answer it. Yet, none of that technology has made its way into Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant, according to Wired.

But voice is still at an early stage. The Washington Post (via SCMP.com) suggests that Viv’s true potential points towards Samsung’s play in the broader IoT connected home devices space.

In a marketing context, voice is still in an extremely early stage, but its influence on search will soon be felt. As the WARC Marketer’s Toolkit 2019 found, “more than any other platform, voice demands that you achieve the top listing as audiences will not scroll through.” Learning about natural language keywords, and about how your audience talks about the category is key.

Sourced from Axios, AKQA, PullString, TechCrunch, Martech Today, Wired, Washington Post, WARC