Introducing The Information!

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Dear Readers,

Technology news needs a reboot. There are more stories and outlets than ever, but a troubling cycle is playing out:

  • The race for pageviews and ad dollars is causing publications to focus on quantity over quality.
  • Coverage is consolidating around attention-grabbing topics, like the latest hot startup or celebrity CEOs. Publications are wasting time writing and regurgitating the same stories again and again.
  • Media outlets are relying on sensational headlines or idle speculation, not original reporting, to make their versions stand out.

The Information, launching today, is our first step towards building a publication that operates differently. We’re a team of reporters and editors who have learned from the best in the business, and we want to challenge ourselves to write better articles that break new ground. Period.

To do that, we are focusing on writing for readers we think are underserved: professionals in technology and in industries being upended by it. These readers find plenty to read every day but they don’t consistently find news that is relevant to them and their business challenges. They don’t often find news that takes a stand supported by facts. We aim to do both.
So, instead of chasing the highest number of eyeballs, we will chase and deliver the most valuable news. We’ve set the bar high. To succeed, we need to write articles that deliver value worth paying for. That’s why we’re a subscription publication.

We know this is an ambitious idea given the flood of free content on the market. To succeed we’ll have to do more with less, be ruthlessly focused, be creative and be consistent.

Those challenges drive us and make us so excited to be launching today.

We would love to hear from you. We have much to do and look forward to adding new features that our subscribers want. For now, we are thrilled you’re here to see what we have been building these past few months and to help us take the next steps.

Sincerely,

Jessica E. Lessin, Editor-in-Chief

jessica@theinformation.com, @jessicalessin

On The Information and How We Operate

I wanted to share some thoughts about Paul Graham’s allegations that he was misquoted and misled in this recent interview in the Information. Our readers are very smart and I’m happy for everyone to have all the information and for Mr. Graham to continue writing about the topic. We’ve apologized to Mr. Graham for any confusion surrounding how his interview would be used. We do not want sources to feel surprised, which is why we communicated with him in advance. But we stand by our process, which I want to share here. We obsess over editorial fairness, transparency and trust and will always do so.

In our interview, which was explicitly introduced as an edited transcript, we made edits for clarity and length. This has long been a standard practice among journalists in the rare instances that they publish extended Q&As, because raw transcripts are messy and hard to read. Journalism inevitably involves making decisions about what to include and what not to include.

We edited a bit around some of Mr. Graham’s quotes on female founders. Specifically, we edited a “these” from the quote. The reason was simple. The “these” didn’t refer to anything. The paragraph that preceded it referred to Mark Zuckerberg being a hacker and it immediately followed a question about what would be lost if YC encouraged more women to be startup founders.

Here’s the relevant bit from the raw transcript. For those of you very interested in this, the full section on women is at the end of this post. 

Eric: If there was just the pro-activity line of attack, if it was like, “OK, yes, women aren’t set up to be startup founders at the level we want.” What would be lost if Y Combinator was more proactive about it? About lowering standards or something like that? Or recruiting women or something, like any of those options?

Paul: No, the problem is these women are not by the time get to 23… Like Mark Zuckerberg starts programming, starts messing about with computers when he’s like 10 or whatever. By the time he’s starting Facebook he’s a hacker, and so he looks at the world through hacker eyes. That’s what causes him to start Facebook. We can’t make these women look at the world through hacker eyes and start Facebook because they haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years.

Mr. Graham has since said the “these” referred to women who aren’t programmers. In our opinion, he didn’t say that to us. We’re happy for him to have clarified to the public.

We know that smart people can disagree and that people can couch our editing, or any editing, as malicious, which is simply bogus. So we updated the story to include the “these” and the context. Writing and reporting involves value judgments about what’s valuable. In many cases “these” is an important word. But in this case, we decided it wasn’t because it didn’t refer to a specific group of women and was in response to a question about women in general. You can read the full context above and decide.

On to the context of the interview:

Mr. Graham’s said that the reason for the interview was for a profile of his wife, which we published. That is true. But it is only half the story.

The on-the-record interview covered significantly more topics than we could include in the profile of Ms. Livingston. It was more than two  hours. Given the unusual length and breadth of the interview, we decided to publish it as a story.

But we didn’t spring it on him. Quite the opposite. We notified Mr. Graham and his PR person and went the extra mile and refreshed their memory on some of the topics. No one expressed any objection. In fact, his PR person followed up with a question about a photo we planned to use for the piece. Mr. Graham didn’t object to anything in the story, or the fact we published it in the first place, until Valleywag wrote about the story days later.

Some people may think we were sneaky. I don’t believe so and believe we specifically took steps to ensure just the opposite. On the record discussions with journalists are exactly that: on the record, meaning the material may be published. It is very common to use parts of older interviews in related stories, sidebars or even stories in the future. At the Wall Street Journal, my colleagues and I would do it all the time. By the same token, plenty of people speak on the record about a topic without knowing in what story the quote might appear. The Information will always go a step further and follow up and let you know when we plan to use the on-the-record comments.

The trust of the public and our subscribers is insanely important to us. Anyone who knows anyone who works at The Information knows that. For those of you who want to know more about how we operate, I want to be clear.  If you talk to The Information on the record we may use that information in different relevant stories. But we will always tell you and give you a chance to comment. We will also bend over backwards to be fair and listen to you, as we have with Mr. Graham, whom we gave our transcript.

By the same token, if you talk to us off the record we’ll never use it.

I know that trustworthiness is the heart of our business and that we have to earn and re-earn it every day. I know that’s even more important as a startup.

Thank you for reading.

The full transcript of Paul Graham on Female Founders

Eric: I want to circle back to women in YC. How much do you think YC needs to be proactive, has any moral obligation to be proactive about this, or anything like that?

Paul: For one thing the number of women is increasing. I think there were a dozen startups with female founders in this batch. It might have been as much as a quarter. I don’t know the exact number. Someone could go and count.

That’s something I’ll probably be asking Jessica [Livingston] more eventually, but yeah.

She’ll have to go count too. There’s a couple of reasons why there are not as many female founders. There’s two questions, “Do we have some problem specifically? This you could identify by looking at the pool of YC startups versus some other comparable pool. I noticed that Andreessen Horowitz, for example, has a page on their site with their seed portfolio which are presumably all companies of similar stages, or at least the time they invested.

I happened to notice because about a quarter of them were from YC, that means three quarters of them are not, it would be interesting to go and see. If you want a pool of startups at similar stages and qualities, it would be interesting to look at that other 75 percent. If you want to know some demographic questions about founders, see what the founders are like at those other startups.

Eric: You haven’t done that?

Paul: No, I only discovered this page a couple of days ago.

Eric: That’s a good idea. I will look at it.

Paul: A lot of people think that we have no way of telling if we have some bias. We do actually, because we go and analyses the people we miss. If the reason we accept few female founders is that we’re biased against them, we would be able to tell this. We would be able to find all these companies we missed.

Like, “Gosh! Half the founders a female,” right? It’s nothing like that. It’s more like one of the founders is female out of all the companies we’ve ever missed. I don’t know for sure, but it’s very few. It’s definitely not the case, that there’s all these good female founded start ups applying to Y Combinator, and we’re throwing them all away. We would know very quickly, if that were the case.

I’m almost certain that we don’t discriminate against female founders because I would know from looking at the ones we missed. You could argue that we should do more, that we should encourage women to start startups. It’s not enough if we merely have…That we should be causing them to start startups and not merely accepting or rejecting them fairly.

The problem with that is I think, at least with technology companies, the people who are really good technology founders have a genuine deep interest in technology. In fact, I’ve heard startups say that they did not like to hire people who had only started programming when they became CS majors in college.

If someone was going to be really good at programming they would have found it own their own. Then if you go look at the bios of successful founders this is invariably the case, they were all hacking on computers at age 13. What that means is the problem is 10 years upstream of us. If we really wanted to fix this problem, what we would have to do is not encourage women to start startups now.

It’s already too late. What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that. God knows what you would do to get 13 year old girls interested in computers. I would have to stop and think about that, because probably…

Eric: The point is that it’s very different from what you guys are doing in the first place.

Paul: You can tell what the pool of potential startup founders looks like. There’s a bunch of ways you can do it. You can go on Google and search for audience photos of PyCon, for example, which is this big Python conference.

That’s a self selected group of people. Anybody who wants to apply can go to that thing. They’re not discriminating for or against anyone. If you want to see what a cross section of programmers looks like, just go look at that or any other conference, doesn’t have to be PyCon specifically.

Or you could look at commits in open source projects. Once again self selected, these people don’t even meet in person. It’s all by email, no one can be intimidated by or feel like an outcast for something like that.

Eric: If there was just the pro-activity line of attack, if it was like, “OK, yes, women aren’t set up to be startup founders at the level we want.” What would be lost if Y Combinator was more proactive about it? About lowering standards or something like that? Or recruiting women or something, like any of those options?

Paul: No, the problem is these women are not by the time get to 23…Like Mark Zuckerberg starts programming, starts messing about with computers when he’s like 10 or whatever. By the time he’s starting Facebook he’s a hacker, and so he looks at the world through hacker eyes. That’s what causes him to start Facebook.

We can’t make these women look at the world through hacker eyes and start Facebook because they haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years.

Eric: What you’re saying is that they’re not out there to be found?

Paul: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. It is changing a bit because it’s no longer so critical to be a hacker. The nature of startups is changing. It used to be that all startups were mostly technology companies. Now you have things like The Gilt Groupe where they’re really retailers, and that’s what they have to be good at because the technology is more commoditized.

That’s probably why we have more female founders than we used to in the past, because the nature of the startups that they’re working on is different. You don’t have to be a hardcore hacker to start a startup like you might have had to be 20 years ago. It’s partly software eating world, and partly that there’s just more infrastructure.

Now that there’s Heroku you don’t need to do all that yourself, you just write some Ruby app and put it on Heroku and bang, it scales. Or AWS, you don’t have to a sysadmin quite as much anymore, you have Amazon racking your servers for you. It’s a combination of startups moving into different domains, that whole software eating the world thing, and infrastructure being more available so you don’t have to be such a hardcore nerd even to start a startup, like you used to have to be.

I remember the old days when you used to have to be really like…When we started a startup back in the ’90s we had the servers in our office with us. You couldn’t even co-locate servers in those days let alone have AWS.

With PrimeSense, Apple Got Key Mapping Technology

There’s a lot of speculation about why Apple bought motion-sensor company PrimeSense. But I think the real reason has been overlooked.

PrimeSense’s chips were in early versions of Microsoft’s Kinect sensor, the gaming console that lets you wave your hands around to control it. So, many have jumped to the conclusion that Apple purchased the company for a component for its long-awaited, long-rumored TV.

I don’t think that’s it. Industry sources tell me PrimeSense’s motion-sensing technology for gestural controls is a little bit behind and that Microsoft doesn’t use it in the Kinect.

But PrimeSense’s technology is much more strategic for mapping, according to one person familiar with the company. In fact, companies like Matterport, which makes a camera for mapping three-dimensional spaces, use its chips.

We know Apple cares about mapping. The company bought WifiSLAM, an indoor GPS company, to help it map out malls and another indoor spaces in a race against Google, which is doing the same. Sooner rather than later, our phones will pull up scans of real spaces we want to visit or may be approaching. Those two-dimensional maps will seem very  obsolete.

As for the endless anticipation around an Apple television, I continue to hear that the company is more interested in set-top boxes for now and that some early prototypes haven’t had motion technology. Sure, Apple could add that technology over time but I don’t think we should be holding our breath for a device or for one controlled by waving our hands. Apple already sells millions and millions of very handy controllers. They are called iPhones and iPads.

An Apple spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Apple’s New Retail Chief is a Watch Lady and More

By Jessica E. Lessin

I’ve uncovered a few timely nuggets about Apple lately, and I thought I would just spit them out and get you the information.

Apple’s New Retail Queen

Apple’s new retail chief Angela Ahrendts is a watch lady, say people who know her. I am certainly not implying that Apple, which is developing the iWatch, nabbed this high-profile executive because she loves watches or because one of her most recent additions to the Burberry line was a very high-end watch brand (both true).  I also hear she took particular interest in the watch retailing space in Burberry stores. Let’s just say her passion for watches is a coincidence. Or maybe just a plus. Needless to say the merchandising around the iWatch, whenever it arrives, will be remarkable.

How Low Can the iPhone 5C Go?

Apple CEO Tim Cook and other Apple executives have been hinting in conversations with analysts and investors that the company could discount the less-expensive iPhone 5C over time. Specifically, they have referred to some “behind the curtain” ways to do so before a new model comes out, according to people who have talked to the executives.

Why does this matter? Investors are particularly eager to see how Apple plays with pricing now that it has splintered the iPhone line. Remember when everyone was worried because the iPhone 5C wasn’t cheap enough take off in China? It is still far from affordable in developing countries, but clearly Apple isn’t afraid to drop the price and is signaling, in its own subtle way, that it may do so.

As an aside, I have been watching Walmart, Target and others slash the price of the iPhone 5C to as low as $49 with wireless contract in recent days. That’s $50 less than Apple sells the device for and an unusually steep discount for the unabashedly luxury Apple. I was wondering if that’s a bad sign for Apple, signaling weak demand. My strong hunch is that retailers are discounting themselves to drive store traffic. Pricing in Apple’s country-specific online stores is steady, according to Piper Jaffray. If Apple starts charging retailers less, we’ll probably see some pricing changes in the online stores.

An Apple spokeswoman didn’t get back to me for comment.

Amazon Has Discussed Teaming Up with HTC on Phones

By Amir Efrati and Jessica E. Lessin

Amazon.com Inc. has discussed building a line of phones with Taiwanese handset maker HTC Corp., according to people who have been involved in HTC’s strategy.

The current status of the talks is unclear and Amazon, whose phone aspirations have been well documented, may have chosen another route. But the conversations show that Amazon has considered leveraging the expertise of a well-known smartphone brand to produce phones rather than oversee the design and manufacturing process on its own, like it has with tablets. (The Financial Times is also reporting on the talks this morning.)

The discussions tell us as much about HTC as Amazon. HTC appears to  be shifting its strategy as it scrambles to avoid becoming the next Blackberry or Nokia.

The Taiwanese handset maker was once the poster child for Android phones, working closely with Google on early Android devices. But it has been eclipsed by rivals, especially Samsung. The South Korean giant is running away with the handset market along with Apple.

Some analysts have said HTC, whose stock has slid dramatically since its mid-2011 peak, may need to sell or find a strategic investor if it cannot reverse its slide in revenue and profits. The company has said repeatedly it is not for sale.

With its global smartphone market share having sunk to the low single digits, HTC is pursuing a new more partnership-heavy strategy. It worked closely with Facebook to release the HTC First. The phone was the first to carry a new package of Facebook mobile software but had disappointing sales.

For Amazon, HTC has technical experience that could supplement its Lab126 hardware unit, which is heavy on design expertise. (While Lab126 handled the Kindle Fire, tablets are a lot easier to build than phones.)

HTC also has relationships with U.S. wireless carriers that could help Amazon sell phones. Amazon also has been discussing ways to preload more of its mobile apps onto existing HTC devices, according to a person who has been involved in those talks.

Spokespeople for Amazon and HTC declined to comment. Earlier this month, Amazon said it wouldn’t launch a phone this year.

Amazon has been casting about for partners for a while. This year it held talks with at least two other hardware makers about working on a smartphone. But those particular talks didn’t result in a deal, according to people who were directly involved in those discussions.

One factor complicating Amazon’s efforts is hardware-makers’ existing relationships with Google. Google, which develops Android, forbids hardware companies who build Android devices that run Google services from building devices that use modified versions of Android that aren’t compatible with current Android apps.

Amazon’s mobile software, which powers its Kindle Fire tablets and would likely be used for its possible smartphones, is derived from Android but isn’t compatible with Android apps.

An Amazon-HTC deal would put Google in a tricky position. Google is rooting for handset makers like HTC to stay alive, to counter the power of Samsung. Samsung is the dominant-maker of Android phones and therefore could theoretically develop leverage over Google. Google bought Motorola last year as a hedge.

Exclusive: Next for Nest: A Smoke Detector

by Jessica E. Lessin

Smart thermostat-maker Nest Labs has been developing a smoke detector that could go on sale as soon as later this year, we have learned from people close to the startup.

Why are we telling you about a potential new smoke detector? Good question.

The device will be the technology company’s latest trojan horse into your home, which it wants to make as easy to control as a computer or smartphone. Think of it as the next node in the home network Nest is building device by device with the original thermostat as the hub.

We don’t know what the smoke detector will be called, when it will go on sale or what it will cost. But we hear that it could have a lot of neat features that will make it far more exciting than a traditional smoke detector.

Those possible features include a subscription monitoring service that would alert you if smoke or fire is detected. One person said the device could communicate with the Nest thermostat, giving it a longer battery life by eliminating the need for it to have its own battery-draining wi-fi chip. We also hear that Nest has discussed features like the ability to silence the alarm by waving a hand in front of it and the ability to detect carbon monoxide.

The contemplated subscription service is a very interesting move. Going ahead with it would open up a new revenue stream for the company. But it would also create an ongoing relationship between Nest and its customers that Nest could use to upsell buyers to future products.

The “connected home” gets quite a lot of buzz these days. Microsoft, Google, and Apple want to help us better connect video and audio throughout our homes. Nest, and others including Crestron, are focusing on the unsexy stuff like heating and cooling systems, shades and lights.

Nest launched its $249 thermostat almost two years ago and has long brainstormed other things to build, including the smoke detector and potentially a door lock. The company has also tried to hire some engineers with audio experience, according to people in Silicon Valley, fueling some speculation in hardware circles that it may eventually build an audio device. (Founders Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers helped create the iPod at Apple.)

Investors, including Kleiner Perkins and Google Ventures, have poured tens of millions of dollars into Nest. It’s nabbed some of the area’s best hardware engineers, and companies in Silicon Valley and beyond are watching its roadmap very closely.

For Nest, a smoke detector is an obvious next step and one it has been hinting at. This month Rogers told TechCrunch that Nest wants to redesign “all the other unloved white plastic crap in your home” and that a new device was coming “at some point soon.”

It is hard to say how well Nest’s business is doing. Its thermostat, which tweaks the temperature automatically based how users have adjusted it in the past, is well-liked by techies for its sleek finish and the fact it saves energy. (It can also be controlled with a smartphone.) But Nest hasn’t released overall sales figures.

Ace Wall Street Reporter Katie Benner Joins Our Team!

speaker photoI am delighted to announce that Katie Benner, the Wall Street reporting whiz over at Fortune Magazine, is joining our team as a reporter.

Katie is masterful at digging inside troubled companies and profiling senior executives and business leaders.

In nearly seven years at Fortune, Katie documented the financial collapse with must-read pieces like this one, which foresaw the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (Check out her recent interview with Hank Paulson reflecting on the economy five years after the financial crisis.)

Katie also knows tech. She wrote an incredibly thorough and prescient piece about Michael Dell’s overly cautious management style two years ago. The major story was one of the many profiles about major business figures she’s known for. It was also part of her expansive repertoire of articles investigating troubled companies. (Her article about the impact of the financial crisis on hedge fund Plainfield Asset Management is a great read.)

More recently, she co-authored an article about venture capitalist Ellen Pao, who sued Kleiner Perkins over sexual discrimination, and her husband, hedge-fund manager Buddy Fletcher. The article set Silicon Valley abuzz.

Katie has also contributed to Fortune’s popular Term Sheet deals newsletter. Before joining Fortune, she worked at TheStreet.com and at CNNMoney.com. She was also a freelancer in Beijing, where she wrote about monks and music.

Anyone who has worked with Katie knows that whatever the story, she plunges in. We cannot wait for her to move out to San Francisco and join our team in early October. In the meantime, you can follow her herehere and here. (Warning: her Twitter account is quite witty!)

What Really Held Up the Cheap iPhone for Years

By Jessica E. Lessin

Apple has done it. It’s selling a $99 iPhone.

I have always been fascinated by this project, and not because I’ve been secretly longing for a plastic blue iPhone. Rather, I’ve followed it closely because the debate within Apple over branching the iPhone line was always more complicated than it seemed.

Reporters, analysts and Apple watchers have long assumed that the company held back because it didn’t want to tarnish its high-end image with a plastic phone until growth was drying up and Samsung was eating its lunch. Today’s comments in the blogosphere that Steve Jobs would be rolling in his grave if he saw the cheaper iPhone 5C represent that view.

But Apple executives, including Mr. Jobs, were seriously considering selling a less-expensive but similar phone as early as 2009, according to former executives involved in the plan. Then, the manufacturing teams were most opposed to it.

Their concerns, which I previously reported on in the Wall Street Journal, were about manufacturing complexity: how could Apple build so many models with so many different components? Apple’s relatively simple supply chain had always been a big competitive advantage. Having relatively few products allowed it to focus, buy parts at scale and keep things secret.

The operations team, which Tim Cook was running at the time, was worried another model could complicate that and the effort got tabled.

Fast-forward to today. Sure, technology has improved. That means the feature gap between today’s cheaper phone and the high-end iPhone is smaller than it would have been a few years ago. (The $99 iPhone 5C has a very high resolution “retina” display and a pretty fast processor.)

But what has really changed is how Apple makes its products. It has broadened its base of manufacturing partners beyond Foxconn to Pegatron and others. It starts building its products earlier to ensure enough supply to stock shelves. Last fall, when it launched the iPhone 5, it sold more than five million in the first weekend, about a million more than the launch of the previous model.

Apple executives have blamed this ballooning supply chain for the slew of product photos leaked before launches. Because Apple has more partners, device parts are getting into more hands.

The lesson here: there are as many internal reasons why companies launch or don’t launch products as external ones. Apple is a complex organization that’s becoming more so by the day. With or without competition from Samsung, only now, was Apple ready to take this on.

Exclusive: Apple Buys (Another) Map App, Embark

by Jessica E. Lessin

Apple Inc. keeps snapping up mapping companies.

The latest: Embark Inc., a small Silicon Valley upstart that builds free transit apps to help smartphone users navigate public transportation.

We don’t know how much Apple paid for the several-person team it acquired very recently. But we heard from people knowledgeable about the deal that the company plans to directly integrate Embark’s technology into Apple Maps.

Embark, founded in 2011, builds apps for mobile devices powered by Android and Apple’s iOS with information about transit systems in about half a dozen U.S. cities such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Its iOS apps are still available for download, but its Android apps aren’t, according to our checks.

An Apple spokeswoman confirmed the deal and said “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” The company didn’t have any comment on the availability of the Android apps.

You’ll remember that Apple openly punted on offering public transit features, like predicting when a train will arrive, when it launched Apple Maps last fall.

Doing so would have required ingesting and sorting data from many public transit agencies. And the new Apple Maps app was buggy enough already. To the delight of companies like Embark, Apple instead directs users to other apps for those features.

Embark’s investors include Silicon Valley seed funds Y Combinator, SV Angel and BMW Group, which has a venture arm that invests in mobile services.

Embark claimed to have more than half a million users of its apps when BMW invested last November. But it faces a host of competitors, including apps like iTransitBuddy and Rover, many of which Apple Maps promotes to users too.

The company had struggled to nail down a business plan, a factor that likely contributed to its desire to sell, one of the people familiar with the deal said.

It bears mentioning that Google Maps already integrates hoards of public transit data to help users plan their trips; it is unclear whether Apple is just trying to get up to par or wants to try something new.

What is clear is that “mapageddon,” or the fight between Apple and Google to build the best maps for mobile, marches on. Here’s a quick recap of some old and recent mapping companies each has purchased.

Google:

3D mapping and data: Keyhole (2004)

Digital mapping: Where 2 Technologies (2004)

European maps: Endoxon (2006)

Aerial photography: ImageAmerica (2007)

Traffic: Waze (2013)

Apple:

Mapping data: Placebase (2009)

3D mapping: Poly9, C3 Technologies  (2010, 2011)

Indoor location: WifiSlam (2013)

Transit data: Locationary, HopStop, Embark (2013)

Exclusive: Apple Recently Acquired Low-Energy Chipmaker Passif

As the smartphone wars heat up, Apple has acquired a key technology in the arms race.

The company in recent months purchased Silicon Valley-based wireless chip developer, Passif Semiconductor, according to people briefed on the deal. Passif develops communication chips that use very little power. Its technology, which includes a radio that works with a low-energy version of Bluetooth called Bluetooth LE, is promising for health-monitoring and fitness devices that need extra-long battery life. (Apple, of course, is working on one of those.) 

It isn’t clear how much Apple paid. The people said Apple tried to buy Passif a few years earlier for a price in the mid-tens-of-millions of dollars. Presumably it would be higher now.

An Apple spokeswoman said “Apple buys small technology companies from time to time.”

It’s easy to see why Apple wanted Passif, which was founded several years ago by Ben Cook and Axel Berny, who were PhD students at the University of California, Berkeley.  As technology companies pack more battery-draining features into smartphones, technologies that preserve and extend battery life are critical. Radios are some of the biggest battery drainers.

The need is particularly acute for wearable devices, like activity-tracking watches. One of the reasons Apple and its rivals haven’t launched such devices yet is how hard it is to shrink screens, batteries and radios to fit into them.

Venture capital firm Khosla Ventures invested in Passif and still lists it on its website. How much the firm invested isn’t clear, although some trade publications announced it had invested $1.6 million in 2008.

There is no doubt that Apple has been picking up the pace of small tech acquisitions. (CEO Tim Cook said so in May.) Apple recently purchased indoor Wi-Fi company Wifislam and mapping data providers Locationary and Hopstop.

Some deals have been designed to land key talent in areas where the company is weak, like mapping and data science.

But the Passif deal is right in Apple’s wheelhouse: components for next generation devices. Apple has been ruthless about getting access to new technologies on favorable terms. The company years ago purchased two semiconductor companies to diversify from Samsung Electronics, its rival that supplies a lot of its components. In that effort, Passif too could help.

 

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