What Will Apple Inc. Do With Its Latest (Rumored) Acquisition?
It's time once again to don our speculation caps: A tech giant
has made another multimillion-dollar acquisition.
Multiple sources are reporting that Apple ( AAPL ) is close to or has already purchased the Tel Aviv-based company PrimeSense to the tune of $345 million, according to estimates. PrimeSense is responsible for the motion-sensing technology that powered the original Microsoft ( MSFT ) Kinect gaming device by employing cameras and depth sensors to detect users' positions, movements, and gestures within a three-dimensional environment. (Microsoft, however, moved on to developing its own tech for future Kinect models.)
There has yet to be an official announcement of the buyout, and both Apple and PrimeSense are refusing to confirm or deny the news. But given the amount of analyst chatter, PrimeSense felt compelled to release a statement:
PrimeSense is the leading 3-D technology in the market. We are focused on building a prosperous company while bringing 3-D sensing and Natural Interaction to the mass market in a variety of markets such as interactive living room and mobile devices. We do not comment on what any of our partners, customers, or potential customers are doing and we do not relate to rumors or recycled rumors.
Official confirmation of the buyout is said to be scheduled in two weeks. But as both companies finalize the deal, analysts are looking forward as to what Apple may want with 3-D and motion-sensing tech.
Considering PrimeSense's earlier development with Microsoft Kinect, many analysts foresee the company's technology being implemented into the phantom Apple HDTV that's been rumored for years. If the product ever sees the light of day, the "iTV" will ostensibly possess features that will both rival and outshine other smart TVs in its league. And given the gestures that control sets from Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) and LG ( LPL ) -- not to mention the strides Microsoft has made with its media-friendly Xbox One -- Apple would want to place itself at least within the curve (if not ahead of it) should it enter the TV market. Failing that, we shouldn't be surprised if we see some advanced motion detection and gesture controls in future iMacs and MacBooks.
But PrimeSense has come a long way from its original set-top camera model. The company has further developed its technology, and reduced its size to fit inside smaller devices -- like, say, a smartphone -- and still retain all its accurate motion detection.
And from there, this acquisition starts to get really interesting.
Samsung made headlines earlier this year for a feature in its Galaxy S4 that allowed users to control video playback and website scrolling based on their eye movement. Look away from the screen, and a video pauses midstream. Glance at the bottom of an article, and the website scrolls up so you can keep reading. The eye-tracking technology extends to screen brightness and orientation, simply based on the sensor's reading of the user's eyes.
Well, with the purchase of PrimeSense, our iPhones and iPads might start paying a similar degree of attention to our eyes.
And although it remained largely a novelty feature rather than a sound security measure, Google ( GOOG ) introduced facial recognition as a means to unlock an Android phone with the unveiling of Ice Cream Sandwich back in 2011. Unfortunately, the feature never matured and remained nothing more than a party trick for Android users -- one that was easily fooled with a photograph of a user.
However, facial recognition could play an integral role in the future of Apple's mobile devices and doesn't have to stop with simply unlocking a device. For iPhones or iPads used by more than one member of the family, separate user profiles and settings could be invoked with just a recognized face. Third-party apps can already unlock devices and tag people in photographs, but Apple could potentially make the technology default to iOS with much greater functionality to multiple users.
Who knows? Maybe we'll even start to see smartphones that can read our emotions and react accordingly. (It'd be nice to see Siri up her game if she notices we're irritated with her.)
But perhaps the most advanced and downright coolest possibilities come in the form of augmented reality and 3-D mimicry.
Already, our smartphones have a pretty good idea of where they are in the wild and the direction the camera is oriented, allowing them to overlay information onto subjects or businesses that are pictured on the screen. But imagine a system that can accurately orient a user's eyes in relation to the screen, as well as the objects on them, so that it could imitate three-dimensional movement -- similar to the home screen background in iOS 7, but to a much more dynamic degree.
This would open up a bold new world for almost every application and UI functionality. Casual smartphone gaming would take on a new dimension (literally) and make first-person shooters even more engaging. Mapping and Yelp ( YELP )-like apps could better direct you toward a business in a 3-D street-view screen. Even something as simple as opening a folder of apps or rifling through a list of contacts would be given a real-world perspective and provide an extra level of intuitiveness.
Of course, there is another possibility, the most unfortunate and entirely viable course of action: Apple simply bought PrimeSense for the patents and so that other companies can't develop upon the technology that Apple has little to no interest in implementing. It wouldn't be the first time Apple has staked its claim in a service only to shut it down, leaving its unique form and function to wallow in acquisition anonymity. Although the possibilities are endless for PrimeSense's alleged buyout, Apple may not be ready to build upon something it bought for chump change given its cash on hand.
But if that's truly the case, it won't be hard for Apple to detect the one gesture given to it by millions of disappointed users.