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  • Writer's pictureAlec Sorensen

Apple is building the next stockpile of personal data

Apple new technology
Keywords - Apple 2018 Patent Applications

Last month Apple announced an ambitious set of new offerings, including a new streaming service and a subscription gaming service. Its hardware release, however; debuted to less fanfare, with industry analysts noting that most new features had already been rolled out by Samsung. In fact, Apple’s detractors contend that it has been years since Apple a truly evolutionary product or feature.

What then, is on the horizon for Apple? We took a close look at the IP Apple generated last year to understand which technologies the company is betting on for the future. While IP isn’t a crystal ball – companies can choose not to patent highly proprietary technology – it still provides a strong indication of the technologies a company considers to be fundamental building blocks for its future positioning.

The chart above shows that the majority of Apple’s IP focused on improvements to core features such as the OS, camera, headphones, and battery. However, it also reveals investments in more disruptive technologies, including 5G / LTE connectivity, autonomous vehicles, and data collection.

Data collection is particularly interesting, given then battles over data ownership and privacy currently consuming the tech industry. Apple has historically supported data privacy and avoided the quagmire that has engulfed companies like Facebook and Google.

6% of Apple's new IP last year focused on collecting data on how people interact with phones, where they go, what they say, and even their health.

The data these technologies allow Apple to collect will put them level with, if not above, data giants like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. While these data sources will inevitably improve user experience, enable new applications and supercharge customized content, they could also allow Apple to freeze out potential emerging companies that pose a threat to its existing and future software and services positions.

Either way, look for Apple to pivot even more into the biometric space, using the data moat it creates to build out strong positions in emerging markets like augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, and wearables.

Other IP Trends

While Apple filed about 500 more patents in 2018 than in 2013, its target markets have remained virtually unchanged. Unsurprisingly, the US accounts for ~60% of Apple’s patents, with another 15% coming from Europe.

There is one change worth noting though. Apple’s patents in China have fallen over 5% from their peak in 2015. This comes in the midst of an ongoing legal dispute between Huawei and Apple that has driven down Apple’s Asia revenue and caused the companies to miss recent financial targets.

Ultimately, IP offers powerful insight into a company’s current and future positioning. Supplemented by other financial and contextual data, it can tell us a significant amount about where a company is going, technologically and financially. To keep up in a rapidly evolving technology landscape, corporate leaders are increasingly looking for better, earlier insight. At Tradespace, we’re developing powerful tools using to turn IP data into actionable insights that lead to smarter technology investments.


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