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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Apple has agreed to buy Pullstring, a San Francisco-based startup that enables the design and publishing of voice apps, Axios has learned from multiple sources.

Why it matters: This could help Siri better compete with Alexa.

Background: Pullstring was founded in 2011 by a group of former Pixar executives, and originally was used to power interactive voice apps for toys (including Hello Barbie in 2015). It later broadened its approach with the introduction of such IoT products as Amazon Echo and Google Assistant.

  • It raised around $44 million in venture capital, from firms like CRV, Greylock, True Ventures, Khosla Ventures and First Round Capital. According to PitchBook, its most recent post-money valuation was just north of $160 million.
  • The upfront deal value is said to be around $30 million, plus around $10 million in potential earn-outs for management. That would include CEO Oren Jacob, who once served as Pixar's CTO.

Voice is seen as one of the next big things and Apple has been way behind both Google and Amazon in terms of adoption and being open to developers. Making it easier to write voice apps combined with a more open Siri could help close the gap, even though both Google and Amazon continue to invest heavily in voice.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.

Go deeper

34 mins ago - Technology

New skill for Olympic athletes: cybersecurity

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

When Olympic athletes from all over the world land in Beijing for the 2022 Olympic Games, they'll be loaded up with burner phones and will likely leave their own devices behind.

Why it matters: Athletes are headed to the Beijing Olympics with mixed guidance from their home countries about whether their personal information will be safe online and their devices will be secure.

Omicron is finally burning out

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New COVID infections are declining in the U.S. — a sign that the Omicron wave has likely peaked.

Yes, but: Deaths are rising, and the U.S. still has a lot of COVID — a reminder that even this milder variant is still a very real threat to unvaccinated Americans.

Activist Republicans oppose helping Ukraine

Ground personnel unload weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, and other military hardware delivered on a National Airlines plane by U.S. military at Boryspil Airport near Kyiv on Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Republicans running in high-profile primary races aren't racing to defend Ukraine against a possible Russian invasion. They're settling on a different line of attack: Blame Biden, not Putin.

Why this matters: GOP operatives working in 2022 primary races tell Axios they worry they'll alienate their base if they push to commit American resources or troops to help Ukraine fight Russia.