Is 2016 the year that Google or Facebook buy Spotify, Snapchat, Dropbox or Netflix? Probably not – the price tags would be astronomical – but it's the kind of thing that the internet behemoths do.
Want to create a new department for virtual reality? Buy a company. What about a new mobile section? Go shopping. With low interest rates throughout 2015, we've seen a year of mergers and acquisitions in the tech world that will shape what's to come in 2016.
So without further ado, here's our list of the biggest tech takeovers which happened this year, and the impact they're likely to have.
- Also check out: 10 next-gen tech trends you should know about
Qualcomm buys Cambridge Silicon Radio
A company built almost entirely through acquisition, it was no surprise when San Diego-based chip maker Qualcomm scraped together $2.5 billion (around £1.6 billion, AU$3.4 billion) back in October to buy UK-based Bluetooth company CSR. As well as giving Qualcomm access to short-range, wireless Bluetooth chips, it will also get aptX, CSR's lossless Bluetooth streaming tech that's fast becoming the standard on Bluetooth speakers, in-car systems and wearable devices.
The upshot? As well as a bolstered AllJoyn – Qualcomm's open-source sharing standard for all kinds of devices – we'll likely soon see aptX everywhere a Qualcomm chipset is found. That's almost every Android smartphone and tablet. Qualcomm also bought Wilocity in May 2015, so now has wireless HDMI tech in its stable, too.
Verizon buys AOL
Could the internet's past also be its future? $4.4 billion (around £2.9 billion, AU$6 billion) sounds like a lot for what can be described both as one of the early internet's pioneers, and one of its long-forgotten brands, but that's exactly what US telecommunications giant Verizon paid for dial-up darling AOL in June 2015. Was it a sentimental acquisition, or does Verizon see something special about AOL?
Since its heyday, AOL has slowly transformed into a digital marketing company that distributes a lot of video content, and it's developed some great advertising software that could help a bigger company rival the likes of Google and Facebook. AOL's automated advertising technology platform targets demographic groups across the web rather than targeting specific websites – marry that to identity and location data Verizon has on its own mobile customers and it could mean a lucrative new LTE streaming video service.
Not that anyone at AOL isn't nervous – the $160 billion AOL-Time Warner deal of 2000 to create the world's largest media company is widely regarded as the least successful media merger ever. The merger was reversed in 2009.
Dell buys EMC
The simultaneous stagnation of the PC business along with the rapid growth of cloud computing has left Dell in a pickle. So what to do? Set up the biggest tech deal of all time, of course. The world's third biggest computer manufacturer, Dell shelled out a stunning $67 billion (around £44 billion, AU$92 billion) in October 2015 to buy storage giant EMC, but why?
Though hardly a household name, EMC's storage and virtualisation hardware will help Dell diversify from the shrinking market in desktop and laptop computers and branch out into cloud-based data services for the corporate world. EMC also owns most of VMware, which provides cloud and virtualisation software and services. With EMC on its books, Dell has the likes of IBM and Cisco in its sights.
Alphabet buys Google
Everyone knew Google was too big, but no one predicted that it would become anyone's subsidiary in 2015. But that's exactly what happened in October of this year when it was announced that Alphabet was to become its parent company.
Some may have waved this away and judged it to be purely a restructuring tool, but in reality this is a corporate move not to be dismissed so easily. Google's new-found independence from the likes of Calico, Google Fiber, Google X, Google Ventures, Google Capital and Nest – now separate entities under the Alphabet umbrella – could give it a much narrower, more aggressive focus on search, ads, apps, YouTube and Android.
Apple buys VocallQ, Coherent Navigation and A123
Its $3 billion (around £2 billion, AU$4.1 billion) purchase of Beats (to create Apple Music) in 2014 aside, Apple is a company that prefers to make small acquisitions, and rarely talks about them. So it proved in 2015, a year during which Apple purchased an impressive 15 companies, only nine of which acquisitions were made public.
Among them was speech tech startup VocallQ, whose natural dialogue software uses machine learning. If that's all about making Siri more conversational, it will probably mean during the commute; VocalIQ was working with General Motors, so Apple Car may be the target.
The same goes for the tech behind Coherent Navigation, another 2015 acquisition – its iGPS technology cross-references data from GPS satellites with signals from Iridium's 100-strong constellation of low-Earth satellites (which you can often see flashing in the night sky). The result is your location down to the centimetre.
Meanwhile, although Apple didn't actually buy lithium-ion battery company A123, it did give all of its staff jobs. More Apple Car tech, anyone?
PayPal buys Paydient
With the cashless economy on everyone's radar – and with Apple Pay kicking off in 2015 – PayPal, now free from its parent company, eBay, decided to stop being solely a consumer-facing company. Despite also helping popularise Apple Pay with its PayPal Here card reader, by purchasing cloud-based mobile wallet startup Paydiant for around $280 million (around £185 million, AU$385 million) in March 2015, PayPal signalled its intention to break into the lucrative, and growing, in-store payments market.
Paydiant's system powers the new in-store payments app CurrentC, a rival to Apple Pay that is supported by the likes of Walmart and Target in the US. This is PayPal expanding from being a company serving only consumers to one that also caters for the needs of large merchants searching for a mobile payment system. There's a lot of money to be made in, err, money.