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Gesture In The Picture, As Intel Picks Up Omek But PrimeSense Dismisses Apple Acquisition Rumors

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Yet more exits for Israeli startups, with the latest two developments a throwback to the hardware and engineering muscle that raised the tech profile of the region in the first place, before the Waze’s of the world got us thinking about Israel as a hotbed of consumer internet companies.

Today, reports leaked out, and we have now confirmed, that Intel has acquired Omek Interactive, a company it had already invested in that makes technology for gesture-based interfaces. At the same time, Israel publication the Calcalist is reporting that Apple is circling around PrimeSense, another developer of gesture-based technology that has been used in Microsoft’s Kinect. Together, the moves could be a sign that gesture-based controls such as those in Microsoft’s Kinect may become even more prevalent.

The Apple/PrimeSense talk, however, appears to be too early, if not altogether inaccurate. The Calcalist’s report notes that this is based around some meetings between the two companies, and that the price for the deal would be around $280 million. But a source at the company described the report as “BS.”

This is “journalist delusion based on unverified and twisted hints,” the source added, also questioning the valuation: “280M? Come on! We’re worth 10 times that. :)” Up to now, PrimeSense has raised nearly $30 million from investors that include Gemini Israel Funds, Canaan Partners, Genesis Partners and Silver Lake Partners and bills itself as “giving digital devices the gift of sight.”

Meanwhile, we have contacted Omek, where the person we tracked down on the phone giggled (yes) and then referred us to Intel for any questions.

We have yet to hear back from Intel or investing arm Intel Capital. A post on Harretz notes the deal actually concluded last week. Haaretz has also managed to get a confirmation directly from Intel: “The acquisition of Omek Interactive will help increase Intel’s capabilities in the delivery of more immersive perceptual computing experiences,” the statement says.
Update: Intel has confirmed to me that the transaction has closed. In addition to the same statement it gave Haaretz, an Intel spokesperson added it’s not confirming the value of the deal, and “we are also not disclosing the timelines on future products that integrate this technology.”

The reported value of Intel’s deal for Omek is between $30 million and $50 million. Without actually hearing from Intel on the details, for now there appears to be a few lines of thinking behind why Intel is going beyond being simply a strategic investor. (Omek has raised $13.8 million to date, with $7 million of that coming from Intel Capital.)

The first of these — as explained in a story in VentureBeat, which first reported talks between the two in March of this year — is that Omek may have been in the market to raise more money and that it chose the exit route instead of going it alone.

Another is that Intel wants the technology as part of its bigger moves into 3D visualization and “perceptual computing”, Intel’s catch-all term for gesture, touch, voice, and other AI-style sensory technologies. This is also the subject of a $100 million investment fund Intel launched in April.

And a third is more mundane and cynical, and potentially true regardless of Intel’s wider, more airy ambitions. The blog GeekTime suggests that this is a hardware play: Intel wants Omek for technology that it can embed into chips. The more functionality it can add that will drive new purchases of those chips by device makers, the better:

“The search for worthy power eating technologies to justify the need for yearly chip version upgrades is an integral part of the hardware industries market management strategy,” it writes. “Device companies must be convinced of the need to design their products to support the more expensive vanguard models of the processing world, placing the need for innovation above price point, and even quality in some cases.”

Whether or not the PrimeSense news is accurate, 9to5Mac makes a convincing argument for how the startup’s intellectual property could fit in with other IP at Apple already; and with Apple’s bigger ambitions to develop products that take it further into the living room, specifically with Apple TV.

And that, in the end, seems to be the crux of today’s news as well. However you cut it, and whoever ends up controlling it (in the tech sense), gesture is increasingly coming into focus and will let us get machines to do our bidding with the wave of a hand, or finger, soon.