Apple has quietly acquired Ottocat, a startup that designed the system to organize and surface apps on the App Store based on “nested” categories of increasing specifity, according to TechCrunch. The idea behind the acquisition is to enhance the “explore” tab in Apple’s App Store.

Apple Inc. Acquired Ottocat To Power 'Explore' Tab In App Store

Apple Ottocat acquisition a surprise?

The iPhone maker wants to transform the way people search and navigate the App Store, and one strategy to achieve it is through small acquisitions. However, TechCrunch suggests that Apple could have acquired the startup as far back as 2013.

Efforts to gather information on the acquisition of Ottocat from LinkedIn were also wasted, says the report. However, one of the startup’s co-founders, Edwin Cooper, authored a patent that was given to Apple as the original assignee. As per the report, Cooper filed the patent as an Apple employee.

There are possibilities that the acquisition was done in 2013. In October of that year, the website of Ottocat was shut down, and this short message was posted: “Ottocat is no longer available.” As of now, the Ottocat URL shows only a blank page. The company remained in operation for a very short period, only offering a beta version to the public in May 2013 after developing a working prototype in January 2013. There could be a connection in Ottocot’s closing down in 2013 and Apple announcing “explore” in the App Store in mid-2014.

The idea behind the technology

The patent describes the technology as a “System and Method for Divisive Textual Clustering by Label Selection Using Variant-Weighted TFIDF” and is used both by Ottocat and Apple’s explore feature, says the report.

Ottocot’s tech is mostly focused on dividing apps into increasingly specific subcategories based on a “drill-down” principle, doing away with the guesswork and potential inaccuracy of keywords altogether.

For instance, previously, on searching with the keyword “guitar,” the user would see the full list of music apps, charts of the popular music apps that contain streaming apps, and apps that are customized to work with the specific hardware apps that allow people to play music on their phone. However, now they can find the desired app in the app store by looking into more specific sub-categories.