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We visualized acquisitions by the Big Five tech companies since 1985, here’s what we learned

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Given the tech acquisition rumors swirling around Twitter at the moment, we thought it’d be interesting to visualize the data on acquisitions by the Big Five tech companies since 1985 to give some context to the rumors. We’ve made that data visualization available as an interactive page for you to explore. We’ve focused on acquisitions by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google/Alphabet, and Microsoft – the five tech giants that were dubbed the “Internet Big Five” or “The Frightful Five” and are tipped to dominate the future of tech.

Explore Tech Acquisition Data

We collected the data on their acquisitions using a multitude of sources, which include publications such as TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Fortune, Forbes, and Business Insider; databases such as Crunchbase and AngelList; and SEC filings of the Big Five tech companies.

What did we find? Here are the big stories that popped out of the data.

Google leads the way with volume of deals

The Big Five have made a total of 617 acquisitions to date. One-third of all acquisitions made by the Big Five were made by Google (215). Google is by far the most active acquirer, averaging 12 acquisitions per year (that’s at least one every month!). Apple has been the most quiet of the five companies, acquiring an average of just two companies per year.

Microsoft has spent the most money

In total, the tech giants spent at least $128.5 billion on acquisitions, half of which was spent in the last three years. Microsoft spent nearly as much on acquisitions as all the other tech giants combined ($62B vs $66B). Microsoft not only has the most expensive acquisition (LinkedIn for $26B), but eight acquisitions worth between $1 and $10 billion. Meanwhile, thrifty Jeff Bezos didn’t spend more than $1 billion on a single acquisition.

2014 was the most prolific year

2014 was the hottest year in terms of acquisitions so far with 68 companies acquired by the tech giants. 2014 was also a year when Apple, Facebook, and Amazon made their biggest acquisitions (Beats, Whatsapp, and Twitch respectively). Meanwhile, in 2016 media has been the most popular industry for acquisitions, as Apple bought Carpool Karaoke and both Google and Microsoft acquired media streaming platforms.

Of all CEOs, Larry Page was the most aggressive acquirer

While Steve Ballmer has made the most acquisitions in total, Larry Page has acquired the most companies in the shortest space of time, averaging a whopping 21 acquisitions per year in his 2nd term as Google’s CEO between 2011 and 2015. Larry Page acquired 35 companies in 2014 – that’s nearly three acquisitions a month!

Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella is the 2nd most active, averaging 12 acquisitions per year since he has been put in charge of the company – that’s 1 acquisition per month! Meanwhile, Steve Jobs, known for his view of acquisitions as a “failure to innovate”, acquired companies reluctantly at a rate of just three per year.

LinkedIn, Whatsapp, and Motorola are the biggest acquisitions

The biggest acquisition so far happened this year with Microsoft’s whopping $26B acquisition of LinkedIn. The second biggest acquisition was Facebook’s 2014 swoop of Whatsapp for $19B, and third biggest was Google’s $12.5B acquisition of Motorola in 2011. Meanwhile, Apple’s biggest acquisition remains Beats, which they picked up for a modest $3B in 2014. Amazon’s meager $970M capture of Twitch in 2014 is still their biggest deal.

Google tried to be social

Google bought 18 social networking companies in their attempt to build out Google+ – now deemed a failed attempt – to capture social networking share from Facebook! That’s more than any other tech giant including Facebook, who has acquired 11 other social networking companies.

Despite dominating mobile, Apple has not been very active there

Despite iPhones and iPads dominating the mobile market, Apple has made just three acquisitions in the purely mobile space, relying instead on its own capacity to innovate. In fact, Google and Microsoft made the most acquisitions in this space (30 and 23 respectively), each having bought former titans of the mobile market Motorola and Nokia respectively. Actually, most of Google’s acquisitions have been in mobile (29, or 1 in 5), as its Android OS grew to rival Apple’s iOS and the company now makes top end smartphones.

Google and Amazon are battling it out in eCommerce

eCommerce is a well known recent battleground between Google and Amazon as they jostle to become the online starting point for a purchase. Unsurprisingly, Amazon is the most aggressive in this sector with 22 acquisitions and five since 201. But Google is showing more recent intent with 19 acquisitions, 17 of which happened since 2011.

They’re all betting on Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Battling for dominance of the future, the Big Five have all been actively acquiring Artificial Intelligence (AI) companies. On its way to the AI-first world, Google is way ahead of the field with 23 acquisitions in this space. Apple, however, is catching up with five out of its last ten acquisitions being AI or machine learning companies. Amazon beat Google to the first AI-for-the-home device on the market and follows closely with seven AI acquisitions to date.

Facebook is leading the way in Augmented Reality (AR) / Virtual Reality (VR)

A fast growing battleground will be AR / VR and Facebook is showing the greatest intent here with four acquisitions including their second biggest acquisition - buying Oculus for $2B. Google and Apple also seem to be following Facebook into this battle with two acquisitions each.

What’s next?

After Microsoft’s $26B blockbuster acquisition of LinkedIn, it appears as if the acquisition space is really heating up. With rumors of Twitter being available at a current market cap of just over $12B, could they be the next big acquisition by the Big Five? It appears as if Google has ruled themselves out (along with Apple) and, with their interest in social networking acquisitions cooling, they seem an unlikely suitor.

That leaves just Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon as potential acquirers from the Big Five. We’ll continue to monitor acquisition activity via our interactive visualization.

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