2013 11 29 mindshare digital pov apple buys prime sense
Apple has bought the Israeli tech company that
worked with Microsoft on the product that became
Kinect. PrimeSense are specialists in motion
tracking and gesture based controls. Apple has
been typically quiet on the matter, saying only that
“Apple buys smaller technology companies from
time to time, and we generally do not discuss our
purpose or plans”; this has not stopped tech blogs
and commentators from speculating on both the
price tag (somewhere in the region of $300m) and the reasons for the purchase.
Every move that Apple makes is pored over for meaning and this deal is no different. The work that
PrimeSense did with Microsoft on Kinect, whilst not ground-breaking, certainly made a huge impact
on the consumer market – it was the fastest selling ever consumer tech device and brought to the
home technology previously only found in labs and R&D facilities – so expectations are high about
what Apple might do with it. There seem to be three main possibilities for how Apple will use the
technology and talent it has just acquired: entertainment, mapping and the internet of things.
The entertainment angle is an obvious one: rumours have been rife for years that Apple will make a
fully-fledged Smart TV, rather than just its current set-top box which delivers iTunes. Building in the
next generation of motion detecting technology could be a key part of this effort. There are
suggestions that Apple might take on Microsoft and Sony in the consoles wars as another way of
becoming the centre of the modern living room, but that is a very expensive game in terms of
investment (not that Apple is short of cash).
Another avenue would be for Apple to make use of PrimeSense’s more recent developments, many
of which apparently surround mapping. Its chips are already being used to map three-dimensional
spaces and this would chime with another recent Apple purchase of an indoor GPS company. Apple
has bet big on maps; its decision to create its own maps app and ditch Google was a PR disaster. It
appears to have powered through these issues now and so it would make sense to continue to beef
up its capabilities. After all the founder of Waze (a mapping app bought by Google) has described
maps being for mobile what search is to the web.
The final route being suggested is also based on PrimeSense’s new range of sensors which map 3D
spaces, but in using these to connect together untold consumer devices. These might allow you to
take a photo of an old kitchen appliance so that a system could then suggest one that would fit the
same space. Or even chips that recognise your friends when they arrive at your front door or warn
you if you put too little flour in a recipe. This may sound too futuristic, but as Kinect demonstrated,
the future is often much nearer than we realise.
It is impossible to know why Apple has bought PrimeSense, but it’s unlikely to just be an acq-hire
aimed at bringing in talent. Apple built its business focusing its resources on particular issues and
areas of consumer life; it would be strange if that has changed now. It is easy to see how this
company might help Apple bring its mythical TV to reality, but it’s also not much harder to see how
it might help it take its map product to the next level. In fact, when you consider that Apple is the
company that brought existing touch technology to the mass market, it’s easy to imagine that
Apple might bring the next generation of PrimeSense’s technology to everything it does.