Apple finally confirmed this weekend that it acquired PrimeSense, the Israeli company that developed the Kinect 3D motion sensor for Microsoft. So what does the deal mean in practical terms?
Having miniaturized its sensors, 3D gesture tech will likely end up in future iPhones and iPads. Expect future generations of these products to offer advanced depth perception and perhaps face and feature recognition, as well as a new range of gestures available without touching the device.
Apple Appeals to our Senses
Apple has a history of acquisitions in interesting areas of processing, interface technologies and sensors. Rumors of it picking up PrimeSense have been rumbling for months and the company finally confirmed the acquisition. It is bringing the company responsible for one of Microsoft's biggest hits into the Apple fold for a reported $360 million.
PrimeSense developed the technology behind the original Kinect sensor for the Xbox 360. It was a huge consumer success because it added motion controlled gaming. PrimeSense also develops the sensors and middleware for a range of related technologies, including in-store body measurements for clothing retailers and robot automation.
The company's latest Capri system-on-a-chip product is designed for mobile and could end up in a future iPhone and iPad or in Mac computers. Linked with Siri for voice commands, it could supplant touch technology on PCs with gesture-based commands.
The combination is most likely to appear in Apple's much-anticipated HDTVs as a way to navigate the menus and channels without the need for remote controls. Certainly, the company will be looking to further differentiate its products from an increasingly similar-looking line-up of consumer products.
A Disturbance in the Force
Despite its recent win in the Samsung patent retrial, rivals will continue to mimic Apple (and Apple will no doubt borrow the best features that its rivals produce), without infringing each other's massive pile of patents. There are several other sensing-specialist companies on the market, with software and hardware solutions to be acquired or licensed from.
Also, Samsung smart TV sets already offer motion sensing, so Apple will need to move things to a new level to claim any degree of innovation. Maybe Apple plans to use its $290 million settlement from Samsung to cover much of the cost of this acquisition. But money is hardly the problem for Apple, raking in sales of the latest iPad and retina mini model.
Tim Cook declared 2014 to be a "product" year for Apple, but progress is moving fast in its likely areas of interest, smartwatches and smart HDTVs. So creating truly compelling products will be an increasingly challenging task.
There is no doubt a market for Apple-branded HDTVs with the power of iTunes and the App Store behind it. But will Apple be able to give it wide-enough appeal at what will like be a very premium price point? That remains to be seen, but PrimeSense could help it develop some critical features to drive user interest.