I wrote recently about how McDonald's invested $300 million to acquire a tech company that lets it supercharge its digital menu boards -- only to have The Wall Street Journal do a story on how much customers hate digital menu boards.

But now McDonald's has announced a new tech acquisition, and it could very well signal big changes to the McDonald's experience.

The company this time is called Apprente, which McDonald's describes "an early stage leader in voice-based, conversational technology." McDonald's says it made the acquisition only after testing Apprente's solutions in some McDonald's restaurants.

McDonald's expects to start employing the technology in drive-throughs, and then possibly add it to self-order kiosks and its mobile app. 

Across retail, this is the big trend: Companies say digital technology has matured to the point where the hard line between Internet and brick-and-mortar retail doesn't really exist anymore. And McDonald's isn't even the only fast food restaurant to experiment with digital technology at the drive through.

McDonald's also said it's forming a new initiative called McD Tech Labs, which will apparently be based in Silicon Valley (Apprente is based in Mountain View, California, home to Google). It will include the Apprente team along with "additional engineers, data scientists and other advanced technology experts."

Apprente, which was founded in 2017, now joins Dynamic Yield, which McDonald's reportedly bought for $300 earlier this year, along with mobile app company Plexure, in which McDonald's is an investor.

McDonald's didn't disclose the terms of the Apprente acquisition. However, it said in a conference call in July that it's already seeing a payoff from using Dynamic Yield's technology in drive-throughs.

While we can't know for sure, it's fascinating to predict how dynamic menu offerings and voice technology could likely combine to change the experience at the McDonald's of the future. 

Among the potential changes:

  • Fewer workers. A greater need for higher skilled tech workers at McDonald's, while potentially replacing some lower-wage customer service workers with technology. Obviously this is the acceleration of a trend across lower-skilled positions at many companies, not just McDonald's.
  • More money. Faster throughput and greater efficiency at the drive-through and across McDonald's various customer platforms, which could ultimately mean even better financial returns for McDonald's.
  • Less drama. If this works well, it could mean the end of the old joke about how bad the voice connection used to be on drive-throughs at all restaurants, not to mention the end of embarrassing accidental drive-through eavesdropping.

By all indications, McDonald's probably isn't done making acquisitions.

"Building our technology infrastructure and digital capabilities are fundamental to our Velocity Growth Plan and enable us to meet rising expectations from our customers," McDonald's President & CEO, Steve Easterbrook, said in a statement announcing the Apprente deal.