For Hints at Apple’s Plans, Read Its Shopping List

One company used sensors to read body movements. Another recommended TV programs. Several others offered location and mapping services.

All of them had at least one thing in common: They were among the more than 20 relatively small companies Apple says it has bought within the last 15 months.

As fellow tech giants have reached billion-dollar deals in recent years to add significant new arms to their businesses — like Facebook buying WhatsApp for as much as $19 billion, and Microsoft buying Nokia’s handset business for more than $7.1 billion — Apple has ventured down a different path.

The company has avoided jaw-dropping takeovers in favor of a series of smaller deals, using the companies to buttress or fill a gap in products that already exist or are in development.

Still, in the past few years, Apple has gradually increased its overall spending on these acquisitions. In the last quarter, for instance, Apple spent $525 million on acquisitions, nearly double what it spent in the same period a year ago.

And while the deals may be small — particularly given Apple’s nearly $160 billion cash hoard — they offer a window into where the secretive company is headed and which products and services it is trying to build or improve.

Apple’s biggest acquisition last year was PrimeSense, a company with about 150 employees that Apple bought for $300 million to $350 million, according to reports. PrimeSense developed sensors that helped Microsoft let Xbox owners control games using body movements, and some analysts say Apple could eventually apply PrimeSense’s skills and technology to a television set. Apple also bought, a service that recommended things to watch on TV, another acquisition that signals its strong interest in the living room.

And Apple’s purchase of location data services like Locationary, HopStop and Embark suggests a steadfast interest in Internet services — especially mapping, where Apple has been harshly criticized for lacking the competence of its competitors Google and Nokia.

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