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Israeli business newspaper Calcalist is saying that Apple(s AAPL) is in discussions to acquire PrimeSense, a company that makes motion-control chips that go in televisions, mobile devices, computers, robots and more. Those discussions, which took place in the last few weeks, are said to be “in the early stages,”
According to the Reuters translation, a group of Apple’s senior engineers visited PrimeSense’s Tel Aviv headquarters earlier this month.
PrimeSense makes chips that allow devices to “see” objects in 3D — they essentially provide depth perception to a TV, computer or robot. And that means a TV, for example, can read the location of different people in a room, distinguish them from furniture and sense their motions. The most popular application of PrimeSense’s technology can be seen in Microsoft’s Kinect motion-control device for the Xbox.(s MSFT)
The chipmaker has raised about $85 million in venture capital to date, and Calcalist’s sources indicate Apple’s could offer between $280 million and $300 million for the company.
Calcalist is relying on unnamed sources, but it notably was the paper that first reported on Apple’s deal to acquire another Israeli chipmaker, Anobit, near the end of 2011.
What would Apple want with motion control chips?
Apple has registered patents for its own motion control interface — like this one for motion control in an iPhone. That could be a red herring, however; Apple, like many tech companies, patents a lot of stuff even if it never uses it. But showing interest in a company like PrimeSense that’s an expert in the subject could mean the company is gearing up for a product that incorporates motion control. But which product?
An iPhone? Maybe. But it seems far more valuable and useful and an alternative interaction method for perhaps the Apple TV set-top box the company currently makes. Or, perhaps, as a defining feature of the long-rumored Apple television. CEO Tim Cook has said the television is “a market that has been left behind” and is “an area of intense interest” for his company. There are probably multiple ways to update the television, of course, but integrated motion control as an option would be one of them.
Motion control is certainly not new: see Kinect, and the ambitions of Leap Motion, which is putting motion control in HP(s HPQ) and Asus computers. But the technology is taking steps into the mainstream. And that’s often Apple’s sweet spot: entering a market late and offering a simplified, rock-solid solution that can appeal to both the early adopter and the tech novice.