When a big tech company acquires a smaller one, a lot of times it’s easy to figure out why. Apple clearly bought Siri in 2010, for instance, as a path to better iPhone voice search. Apple bought AuthenTec for its fingerprint scanning technology, which may debut in the next iPhone.
The motivations for Apple’s recent purchase of Matcha.tv aren’t so obvious. Sure, we know Apple has its sights on the living room, and Matcha.tv was essentially a high-tech channel guide, pulling in online sources like Netflix and Hulu into a single app. The acquisition seems like a good fit.
Still, Matcha.tv doesn’t look all that unique at first glance. When the service quietly shut down in May, it already had plenty of competition from apps like Fanhattan, i.TV, NextGuide and TV Guide. They all seem pretty similar. What’s so special about Matcha.tv?
It’s hard to say without actually using the app, which is no longer available. And apparently, Matcha.tv had a new version on the way with lots of enhancements.
But here are a couple of theories:
Recommendations: An old Matcha.tv press release touts the service’s “proprietary social recommendation engine,” which uses “traditional collaborative filtering algorithms with a user’s own social graph.” Collaborative filtering means figuring out what you might like based on what people with similar interests might like. The “social graph” refers to all the people you know on services like Facebook and Twitter, and what they like. Matcha.tv is saying that puts these two things together to make its recommendations better. That could just be baloney–I haven’t used Matcha.tv, so I don’t know–but it could be a secret sauce for recommendations that Apple wanted.
(UPDATE: TechCrunch, citing unnamed sources, says recommendations are exactly the reason why Apple bought Matcha.tv.)
“DVR” in the Cloud: Matcha.tv wasn’t a traditional DVR, in that it didn’t actually record anything. But it did allow users to flag episodes of streaming TV shows for later viewing. It also synced with Netflix, so it knew which episodes you’d seen already, and could direct you to the next episode in the series. There have been rumors of Apple wanting to include a “cloud DVR” feature in an upcoming television product, with all shows stored on the Internet. Matcha.tv advertised its queue as a “smart cloud DVR.” Seems like a decent match.
As for Apple’s TV plans, we still have no clue when the company will get there. Apple has struggled for years to convince TV studios that an Apple-controlled TV box is a good idea, but there have been signs of change recently. Apple has reportedly caught the ear of TV executives by pitching a “premium” ad-skipping service that would pay media companies for the skipped views. Imagine that, combined with a “cloud DVR” service that doesn’t require you to record shows onto your TV box, and knows what kind of shows you’d like to watch.