It is obvious that the large internet companies like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter have many different big data solutions. LinkedIn for example employs over 100 data scientists to develop among others the recommendation engine. Twitter developed several open source tools. Also the sentiment analyses or trending topics require a big data approach. Facebook’s newest search engine Graph Search combines characteristics instead of search terms. All connections, likes, posts, comments are taken into account in delivering the right result. Of course, this is only possible with the right big data technologies in place.
It is no surprise that also Apple deals with big data. As is with many of the products that Apple develops, there is however not that much known about how Apple deals with big data. But with over 50 billion of downloaded apps from the app store, Apple swims in massive amounts of data that can, and will be, analysed for additional insights. Like many of the tech companies in Silicon Valley they have been using big data for quite some time.
Although they are a bit more secretive than other companies like Google, who are more willing to share some of the big data innovations that they have created, Apple does apply some of the big data technologies like Hadoop or Large Scale Data Warehousing. One of the uses of big data is to inform the design of their application, as mentioned by Jeff Kelly, Principal Research Contributor at Wikibon. Using all the data that they have collected about how their applications are used on the iPod, iPhone, iPad or Macbooks and Macs they can test new features relatively easy and sometimes do A/B testing to improve the experience. They use data to understand how people are using their applications. When it is a game application they can use the data to understand where there is a bottleneck or where a lot of people get stuck. They will use that data to improve the gaming experience. In addition they use the feedback and reviews users provide in the Appstore to improve their products.
In order to store all that data, Apple uses Terradata equipment and reportedly they are the fastest customer of Terradata to reach Petabyte scale in a Terradata warehouse. They now operate a multiple-petabyte Teradata system, which is mostly driven by the launch of iCloud in 2011. Robin Harris believes that these petabytes are mostly used to store personal information. Of course, this was 2011 and two years later it is likely that this data warehouse has grown tremendously.
Although they are gearing up for the big data era fast, it does not mean that they have it all set out correctly. In an article on Forbes in 2012, it was reported that one of the likely causes of Apple’s failure in entering the Mobile Maps Application market was its struggle to catch up with big data. While Google already opened up its mapping functionality in 2005, Apple had to catch up in the game in much shorter timeframe, which revealed to be too short to develop a well-working product.
It is obvious that Apple deals with massive amounts of data. Each and every Apple product communicates back to the Apple data warehouse on a continuous basis. Think only the amount of data that is generated via Siri and stored for two years. But also the data collected via iTunes & iTunes Match, iCloud and usage data of all software and hardware. Although being a lot of data, it is nothing spectacular or unexpected. Something we are not used to of Apple. Could the rumoured iWatch be the game changer in the big data field?
The rumoured iWatch could possibly be a data generator beyond any wearable device currently on the market. Storing data about how much you walk, how many calories you burn on a daily basis, how well you have slept and in the mean time constantly communicating with all your other Apple devices. Bernard Marr argues in an article that when many consumers on a global scale will wear such a smart watch it will generate massive amounts of data regarding a nation’s physical output, eating habits or risk indicators. If we look beyond the standard options, and Apple introduces environmental sensors such as accelerometers, thermometers, barometers, altimeters into the device we are talking serious data. Combing that data with personal data, location data as well as time and data (after all it is still a watch) would seriously mean big data. Of course, this is all speculation and we will have to wait if and when Apple introduces a smartwatch.
Clearly, Apple is working with big data for quite some time now. How much and what they do exactly is difficult to find out. Whether or not Apple will re-invent big data with the iWatch remains speculative as until the device is revealed everything remains unclear. One thing is for sure; Apple generates and collects vast amounts of data, uses several big data technologies and uses this in the development of products and services to improve the customer experience.