Well, it’s about time. After months of speculation and persistent rumors, Apple today confirmed that it indeed acquired Israeli 3D sensor company PrimeSense, as first reported by AllThingsD. Early reports pegged the transaction as costing Cupertino between $300 and $350 million, but ATD claims the figure was closer to $360 million and anyone hoping Apple will step in with the correct number is a lunatic.
“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch. Sound familiar? It’s the line Apple trots out whenever it acquires another company; see Cue and Algotrim for more of the same.
As always, the road to the truth is a tricky one, and Primesense has spent months dismissing reports (usually from Israel’s The Calcalist) that the folks in Cupertino were working to snap it up. Most recently, PrimeSense CEO Inon Beracha said that this recent crop of acquisition reports was the product of a “recycled rumor” though retrospect it’s not hard to see why — those rumors were true all along.
So that’s another bit of acquisition intrigue under the bridge, but this whole thing raises another weight question: what the hell does Apple want to do with PrimeSense’s tech? It’s really anyone’s guess at this point. Considering PrimeSense’s close work with Microsoft took the Kinect from a wild-eyed concept to a device that’s changing the way people interact with their televisions, it’s not hard to see how the company’s hardware and patent portfolio could give Apple an edge as it (reportedly) tries to crack people’s living rooms.
And it should be noted that PrimeSense has gotten to be pretty good at downsizing its sensor arrays. Within the past few months along we’ve seen a more portable version of its Carmine 1.09 sensor fitted into 3D Systems’ curious new handheld 3D scanner, and a carefully modified PrimeSense array powers the surprisingly small Occipital Structure sensor, which itself is meant to be lashed to an iPad or an iPhone. While there’s no denying that scanners are getting smaller, that potential mobile angle seems a bit more farfetched at this point — the upshot to being able to collect 3D data from a mobile device is still pretty limited especially when you consider the sort of havoc it would wreak on an iPhone’s battery life.
No, I’d wager that if Apple does wind up deploying PrimeSense tech in next-gen iDevices, it’ll be an implementation of the company’s gesture-based UI. Rivals like Samsung have already ventured into the space (well, it didn’t venture so much as it dove right in) but no one has really managed to get the experience where it needs to be just yet. If Cupertino’s foray into biometric security in the form of the iPhone 5s’ TouchID fingerprint sensor is any indicator though, Apple is more than happy to let others take a stab at new features first while it continues to polish those concepts behind closed doors.