An Apple/PrimeSense deal makes sense — rumor or not

3-D gesture technology by an Israeli start-up would enhance iPhones, iPads and even Apple TV

A PrimeSense sensor box (photo credit: Courtesy)
A PrimeSense sensor box (photo credit: Courtesy)

Israeli-developed 3-D gesture technology is suddenly hot. After the announcement earlier this week that Intel was acquiring Omek Interactive, a developer of 3-D gesture technology, it emerged that Apple has been talking to PrimeSense, the Israeli company that developed the Kinect 3-D system for Microsoft and has since gone on to see its 3-D sensors installed in some 20 million devices, including consumer electronics, cars, game devices, digital signage, medical devices, and more.

The match makes perfect sense, it would seem. PrimeSense’s product line and technology certainly matches Apple’s needs. Apple, according to industry insiders, has been working on 3-D for some time now. Last year, it took out patents on a method of presenting 3-D content on devices without the need for glasses, and if Apple wants to add 3-D to its iPhones and iPads, it would need not only a 3-D sensor, but also technology to enable the device to understand and apply gestures properly — a major programming task.

That’s exactly the kind of thing PrimeSense does. Its depth-sensing technology lets devices identify the body properties, movements, and gestures of people, enabling the device to differentiate between specific gestures which trigger specific events (i.e., a sweep of the arm, right to left, in front of a smart TV enabled with 3-D gesture technology would change channels, while the raising or lowering of an arm would change the volume). Besides “understanding” what each gesture means, the device has to differentiate between objects such as furniture, and the location of walls and floors, as well as between gestures meant to trigger an action and those a person makes that are not meant for the devices.

PrimeSense’s technology already does all this, using an innovative “light coding” method, which codes a scene with light from the near-infrared spectrum, interpreting actions based on where the activity takes place.

One of the Apple products that could most benefit from an “off-the-shelf” PrimeSense solution is Apple TV, the company’s set-top box that delivers movies, TV shows, music and other content. Currently, it’s controlled by a remote control, but by simply adding a PrimeSense “system-on-a-chip” sensor to the device, Apple TV would become an advanced 3-D gesture-based system that would garner headlines — and, most likely, sales — for the company, whose stock price has fallen on relatively hard times recently, dropping by nearly half in less than a year.

So Apple could certainly benefit by picking up PrimeSense — but according to the reports confirming that talks are going on, the deal is unlikely to happen, because Apple is said to be offering less than $300 million for PrimeSense — an offer not being taken seriously, a PrimeSense employee told the media on condition of anonymity. “We’re worth 10 times that,” the employee was quoted in media reports as saying. Given Apple’s history of low-ball valuations for Israeli companies (it may be recalled that Apple was the first tech giant to make an offer — $400 million, which turned out to be a a thoroughly inadequate sum), it’s hard to imagine that they would let yet another golden opportunity slip through their fingers.

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