Apple reportedly buying Israel’s PrimeSense for $345 million

Company that developed 3D sensors installed in 20 million devices may be just what US tech giant needs to stay ahead of competitors

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

Apple is buying Israel’s PrimeSense for $345 million, the Calcalist business daily reported Sunday. The deal is expected to be reported officially by both companies within the next two weeks, the report said.

This is the second time a deal, or near-deal, between the two companies has been reported. Last July, it was reported that PrimeSense and Apple were in intense negotiations over a possible Apple acquisition. Sunday’s report was not immediately confirmed.

PrimeSense is the Israeli company that developed the Kinect 3D system for Microsoft. Since then, it has developed 3D sensors for consumer electronics, cars, game devices, digital signage, medical devices, and more. The company’s sensors are installed in over 20 million devices.

Apple, according to industry insiders, has been working on three-dimensional technology for some time now; last year, it took out patents on a method of presenting 3D content on devices without the need for glasses. If Apple wants to add 3D to its iPhones and iPads, it would need not only a 3D sensor, but also technology to enable the device to understand and apply gestures properly – a major programming task.

PrimeSense has already overcome many of the programming issues that Apple would face. The company’s technology uses depth-sensing to enable devices to identify movements and gestures, enabling the device to differentiate between specific gestures that trigger specific events — such as an arm sweep to change channels on a TV, a hand movement to change the volume, etc.

PrimeSense’s technology also enables devices to differentiate between objects like furniture, and to weed out gestures that are not meant to be picked up by the device. The technology is based on an innovative “light coding” method, which codes a scene with light from the near-infrared spectrum, interpreting actions based on where activity takes place.

Among the products PrimeSense’s technology would most likely be applied to is Apple TV, a device which lets users subscribe to Internet television and media services. Apple TV is one of the leading set-top boxes for delivering Internet content to TV sets, but has recently been challenged by Google, which released its ChromeCast device several months ago.

Although Apple TV offers more entertainment options right now (including services like Hulu, HBO, etc.), the Google device offers more flexibility in connectivity and the formats it plays — and is one third of the price of Apple TV. Adding 3D to Apple TV would give the Cupertino-based company a big leg up on its Google competitor.

However, some experts said that the reports of a PrimeSense sale could be just that. During negotiations in July, a a PrimeSense executive said he doubted a deal could be closed, because Apple was not offering enough money for the Israeli start-up. At the time, it was rumored that Apple was 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 ten times that,” the employee was quoted in media reports as saying. Whether $345 million is enough of an offer remains to be seen, the experts said.

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