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Apple buys social analytics startup Topsy

Apple CEO Tim Cook holds up the new iPad Air during an Apple event in San Francisco on Oct. 22, 2013. The company confirmed it has purchased social media analytics startup Topsy.
Apple CEO Tim Cook holds up the new iPad Air during an Apple event in San Francisco on Oct. 22, 2013. The company confirmed it has purchased social media analytics startup Topsy. Robert Galbraith

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple has acquired social media search and analytics startup Topsy, an unusual purchase for a hardware-focused company that has made few forays into social networking. 

Apple confirmed the acquisition but would not say why it bought the company, which specializes in analyzing Twitter data and providing insights into current sentiment on a variety of topics. 

The Wall Street Journal, which reported the news earlier, cited people familiar with the deal as saying Apple forked over more than $200 million. 

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said. 

Topsy did not respond to requests for comment. 

Topsy pores through the stream of conversations occurring on Twitter to identify trends and people influencing public opinion. The San Francisco startup also runs a free search engine that boasts an index of every tweet posted since 2006, a resource that's not publicly available on Twitter's own online messaging service.

Apple often does what it calls "bolt-on" acquisitions, small deals to acquire technology that then gets integrated into existing or future products. 

Apple's main effort in social media has revolved around Ping, a music-centered social sharing network that was at one point integrated into its iTunes app. The service, which lets users post music tracks they liked to a newsfeed, didn't catch on and was shut down. 

But the California gadget maker has been increasingly making it easier for people to share photos, videos and news through its devices and directly to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. 

It also operates iTunes Radio, an online streaming music service that competes with Pandora and could benefit from Topsy's data on consumer sentiment. 

Getting a better grasp on the hottest topics on Twitter could help Apple sell more advertising on iPhones and iPads. Apple has been trying to boost its mobile advertising revenue for years.

Topsy's Twitter tools also could be used simply to give the iPhone a search feature that isn't available on rival products running on Google's Android operating system. Unlike Topsy, Google hasn't been able to obtain a licensing agreement that would give its search engine more immediate and deeper access to Twitter's content.

Twitter ranks among the most popular applications on smartphones, so a quicker way to search through tweets on the device might appeal to some consumers.

Apple spent a total of $496 million acquiring other companies during its last fiscal year ending Sept. 28. In comparison, Google spent $1.4 billion acquiring other companies during the same stretch. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.