Weekend Roundup: Apple A.I. Startup Buy, Google Growing Stadia

With CES 2020 over, you might think the rest of January would be relatively quiet for the tech industry, right? Wrong. This week, we have some big acquisitions, some big environmental plans, and some big platform updates from some of the country’s biggest tech companies. Ready? You better be, because we’re jumping right in.

Apple Buys A.I. Startup

Although Apple is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to acquisitions, news has leaked that the company recently plunked down a cool $200 million for artificial-intelligence startup Xnor.ai, which specializes in low-power A.I. tools. GeekWire swung by Xnor.ai’s Seattle offices and saw that the company was clearly in the midst of a move “presumably to Apple’s Seattle offices.”

Low-power A.I. tools are capable of running on a device without shooting data into the cloud. This is an immensely important thing to Apple, which wants to protect user privacy by having iPads and iPhones perform operations involving user data on the device itself.

Microsoft Chucks Its Carbon

Many tech companies have some kind of “official” environmental policy, often focusing on clean energy and recycling initiatives. Microsoft is trying to take things one step further: It wants to become “carbon negative” (i.e., removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it produces) by 2030.

The company already purchases renewable energy, and (according to The Verge) charges its internal business units whenever they generate greenhouse gases. But actively sucking carbon out of the atmosphere is going to require technology that simply hasn’t been invented yet—and Microsoft is investing in research in this area. Whether this initiative succeeds, it’s impossible to know… and in the meantime, Microsoft continues to do business with fossil-fuel companies, sparking protests from employees.

Google Expanding Stadia as Fast as It Can

Last year, Google announced Stadia, an ambitious platform that would allow gamers to stream games via the browser. Google made big claims about its initiative, including a supposed ability to deliver games with 4K HDR graphics at 60fps, but the actual release was a bit of a mess—early reviews cited bumpiness when trying to stream high-resolution content, and some gamers complained about a lack of available games. 

Google isn’t the only tech giant expanding into streaming games. Apple Arcade is an iOS-centric take on the same concept, although it allows gamers to play offline. In a similar vein, Microsoft’s upcoming xCloud gaming service will allow players to run Xbox games on their Android devices.

That puts additional pressure on Google to get Stadia right. “Looking at our upcoming lineup, we are tracking more than 120 games coming to Stadia in 2020, and are targeting more than ten games in the first half of this year alone that will be only available on Stadia when they launch,” Google wrote in a posting on the Stadia Community Blog. “We’re working with our partners to share more on those games soon.”

The stakes here are pretty high: If Google’s efforts fail, other firms might hesitate to pursue huge, ambitious streaming-game projects. But if Stadia ends up a success, it could accelerate development of the underlying technologies that allow companies to seamlessly stream content into offices and living rooms around the world. That could result in cool products for gamers and non-gamers alike.

Have a great weekend, everyone!