The company has previously used acquisitions to expand its bench of AI talent, as have other technology companies like Alphabet, Facebook and Microsoft. These companies have all taken steps to enhance their own products with AI and offer tools to outside software developers.
"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," the company told CNBC in an email. (Apple gives that same response whenever it confirms it has acquired a company.)
GeekWire first reported the news earlier Wednesday, saying that the deal was worth up about $200 million. Xnor has been based in Seattle and has 54 employees, according to LinkedIn. Investors include Madrona Venture Group.
Xnor spun out of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research lab created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The start-up specialized in running its software not in data centers full of powerful computers, but rather on devices with lesser computing resources. The start-up's website previously displayed information about applications in the retail and automotive industries. Xnor emphasized the ability to run on-device, rather than resort to cloud providers like Amazon to perform heavy-duty computing.
AI has been key for Apple's autonomous vehicle research, although the company has also sought to do more in AI in general. In late 2018 Apple appointed John Giannandrea, its senior vice president of artificial intelligence and machine learning strategy and a former Google executive, to its executive team.
Previous Apple AI acquisitions include Drive.ai, Silk Labs, PullString and Turi.