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Apple buys AI voice startup that helps companies build Alexa and Google Assistant apps

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It may be used to help accelerate the adoption of Siri

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple has acquired a San Francisco-based artificial intelligence startup called PullString that specializes in helping companies build conversational voice apps, according to a report from Axios. Pullstring was founded back in 2011 by former Pixar employees — its CEO, Oren Jacob, is Pixar’s former chief technology officer. Up until now, PullString was most well known within the tech industry as the software backbone behind voice systems for popular toys, like Mattell’s talking Hello Barbie doll.

It’s not clear what Apple will be getting out of the deal, which is said to be worth under $100 million, but well over the $44 million in venture capital funding PullString has amassed thus far. But beyond toys, PullString has also worked on the enterprise end to help companies build skills and apps for Amazon’s Alexa platform and Google Assistant. In that sense, Apple could be acquiring PullString to help accelerate the growth of Siri-powered apps and features, which are sorely lacking compared to the tens of thousands of integrations, skills, and actions Amazon and Google offer.