Apple's Rumored Wi-Gear Acquisition is Interesting

Apple's rumored acquisition of Wi-Gear is a rare move involving consumer hardware, rather than technology or services. What's the deal?

Wi-Gear's claim to fame is iMuffs, a set of Bluetooth wireless headphones for iPhones and iPods. The company was in the business for three generations of iOS devices before being bought by Apple for an undisclosed sum, according to 9to5Mac.

Apple has not yet confirmed the report, but Wi-Gear co-founder Michael Kim lists his current job as iOS Bluetooth Engineer at Apple Inc., and Wi-Gear's Website says the company is no longer in business.

9to5Mac's Seth Weintraub thinks Apple will use Wi-Gear's expertise to build stereo Bluetooth headphones for future iOS devices and MacBooks. I'm not convinced this is the whole story.

With acquisitions, Apple's intent isn't always obvious or even in-line with rumors. When the company acquired music streaming service Lala in December 2009, unconfirmed reports suggested that the team was put to work on a Web-based version of iTunes. So far, that hasn't panned out, and a later rumor said Apple instead used Lala's talent for streaming video.

Apple also bought Siri, the maker of a personal assistant app, with the assumption by some tech watchers that Apple would integrate these features into iOS. Again, that hasn't happened. Another possible motiviation: Siri has really good voice recognition features, which Apple could use, especially as Google is making great strides on that front.

But still, these are software services, and Apple is a "software driven company," according to Chief Executive Steve Jobs. Apple has acquired hardware makers before, including chip-makers PA Semi and Intrinsity, and the purpose was obvious: The company wanted more control over the innards of its products.

Still, a consumer product like iMuffs sticks out as odd. There are plenty of third-party manufacturers making great iOS peripherals. To single out one company suggests there's more to the purchase than turning iMuffs into first-party hardware. Maybe I'm reading into this too much, and Apple is simply planning to bundle Bluetooth headsets instead of wired ones in the future, but I wouldn't be surprised if something else is afoot.

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