What Does Apple Want with Motion-Sensing Technology?

Games such as “X-Com” could make Apple more of a robust gaming platform… and create more of a use for its new PrimeSense acquisition.

Apple has confirmed its acquisition of Israeli tech firm PrimeSense, which builds motion-sensing technology.

While neither company attached a sticker price to the deal, Reuters (drawing information from Israeli tech media) placed it at $350 million; when rumors of the deal first emerged last week, anonymous sources speaking to The Wall Street Journal had pegged the imminent sale at $345 million, quite a bit above PrimeSense’s $250 million valuation.

PrimeSense built the sensor technology that went into the first generation of Microsoft’s Kinect device, which allows players to control onscreen action via gestures. (Microsoft chose to use its own technology for the next-generation Kinect included with the newly released Xbox One.) PrimeSense has devoted its subsequent research and engineering efforts to shrinking its core technology, producing hardware such as the Capri 1.25, a sensor embeddable in televisions, tablets, and other devices.

But what does Apple want with that sort of technology?

The first and most obvious answer, of course, is the long-rumored Apple television set (not to be confused with the current Apple TV set-top box). Before his death in late 2011, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told his official biographer that he’d finally figured out a way to make a great television set, although he didn’t share details; it’s possible Apple could deploy motion-sensing technology in a way that streamlines how people interact with their televisions, allowing the company to completely sidestep the clunky interfaces that dominate most current setups.

Motion-sensing technology could also find its way into Apple’s tablets and smartphones, allowing users to interact with their devices without ever touching the screen. Apple rivals such as Samsung have already deployed mobile-device technology that tracks eye movement and reads faces; Apple could certainly follow suit, perhaps with more robust features that allow the user to manipulate software interfaces from across a room.

Apple’s devices have also emerged into significant gaming platforms, thanks to third-party developers flooding the App Store with increasingly sophisticated games, and it’s possible that PrimeSense’s technology could eventually play a role of some sort in that evolution. While it’s unlikely that Apple will release a dedicated game console—why would it, when consoles such as the PlayStation and Xbox are threatened by gaming on mobile devices—it could make a bigger gaming push in conjunction with a new Apple television, or even an updated version of Apple TV. Should that come about, PrimeSense technology would give Apple and its developer community more opportunities with regard to game design.

In any case, Apple’s unlikely to share its plans for PrimeSense until it’s ready to unveil some sort of product or service. Until then, the scuttlebutt will doubtlessly continue.


Image: 2K Games