PrimeSense buy would open 'world of apps and services' for Apple

Gartner analyst speculates on reports, says Apple's interest in 3-D gesture and scanning technology would be long-term investment meant to keep pace with rivals

Apple has moved a step closer to acquiring the Israeli chip design company that provided the motion sensing technology used in Microsoft's first-generation Kinect video game controller, a business newspaper reported Sunday.

"There are very few other companies that have the depth in this technology that PrimeSense has," said Brian Blau, a Gartner analyst who covers, among other things, virtual reality and 3-D applications for his firm. "I'd call PrimeSense the premier one in the space. They've been doing this for quite some time, and have the design chops."

According to Calcalist, Apple has negotiated a $345 million purchase price for PrimeSense, although details remain to be worked out and a deal has not been signed.

PrimeSense declined to comment, but did not deny the report by Calcalist, which is also based in Israel. "We do not comment on what any of our partners, customers or potential customers are doing and we do not relate to rumors or re-cycled rumors," the company said in an emailed statement Monday.

"Recycled rumors" was a mocking reference to a report in mid-July, also by Calcalist, that the Apple and PrimeSense were in acquisition talks. Then, the publication said the deal would be worth approximately $280 million.

PrimeSense is best known for designing the SoC (system-on-a-chip) that processes 3-D motion sensing, a gestures-based technology it licensed to Microsoft for the latter's Kinect video game controller, an important part of Microsoft's Xbox 360 console.

Microsoft has since moved beyond PrimeSense, buying other firms in the space, and will rely on those technologies as well as its own in-house engineering, for Kinect on the Xbox One, the company's next-generation game system slated to go on sale Friday, Nov. 22.

Apple already has several development teams in Israel, where it employs an estimated 300 to 400 people, many of them engineers. And in late 2011, Apple purchased Anobit Technologies, an Israeli maker of solid state drives (SSDs), for between $300 million and $500 million. Apple has integrated Anobit's SSDs into its iMac desktop computers.

While much of the analysis aimed at an Apple-PrimeSense connection has focused on an Apple-made smart television set -- which research firm DisplaySearch said last week was on hold -- PrimeSense's next-generation SoC and supporting technology, dubbed "Capri," is small enough to pack into a tablet or smartphone, according to the company.

In May, PrimeSense demonstrated Capri's motion detection and scanning on a cobbled-together Google Nexus 10 tablet, for example.

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