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What's Apple doing in Kendall Square?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 10, 2013 02:58 PM

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Apple seems to have set up a new office in Kendall Square, just a few floors down from Amazon.com in the Cambridge Innovation Center.

I know just about nothing about the new office, and haven't yet found anyone who does. Apple didn't respond to my inquiries, but building residents say an Apple sign appeared above an office door just before the holidays. The single door is frosted glass, and the office looks like it could fit perhaps four or five people. (Apple isn't listed as a tenant — yet? — on the floor's directory.) One neighbor told me he has only seen one person use the new space thus far, and not on a daily basis.

In addition to the employees at its stores, Apple has always had sales and support staffers working in the Boston area to serve major corporate and academic customers. But what would be big news is if this is a new engineering or R&D outpost. Those are activities Apple has historically done only at its Cupertino headquarters. "It'd be a huge strategic shift if they are hiring engineers here," says Chuck Goldman, a former Apple executive who is now chief strategy officer at Boston-based Apperian, which helps companies deploy mobile apps to their employees. "The mantra was always that everything was made in Cupertino."

And even when Apple has acquired companies — like Waltham-based Quattro Wireless, in 2010, which became Apple's iAds mobile advertising product — it has mandated that employees relocate to Cupertino, or find new jobs.

Perhaps, as Jonathan Kay hypothesizes, Apple "wants to play in any sandbox that is in such close proximity to Google and Microsoft." (Not to mention Amazon.) Kay runs Apptopia, a Boston-based app brokerage. Cambridge Innovation Center CEO Tim Rowe declined to comment on the new tenant.

I couldn't find any Apple job postings that seemed to pertain to this new office.

Know anything more? Post a comment or drop me an e-mail...

Update: Bob Cassels, a software engineer at Google who previously worked for Apple, e-mailed me with a little history about an earlier Apple presence in Cambridge...

Apple had an R&D office in Cambridge many years ago. Apple acquired a small Cambridge company (Coral Software) that was making Macintosh Common Lisp.

They continued that effort, and started another group working on designing a new programming language for the Newton. That language was eventually named Dylan.

...All of this was part of Apple's ATG (Advanced Technology Group), long since disbanded.

But the project and the lab was shut down as the Newton shrank from its originally proposed form (very similar to today's tablet computers), to the phone-sized thing that was eventually released...

Apple acquired Coral in 1989.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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