We don't usually write much about buyouts here at DVICE. Buyouts usually go something like this: big company pays a crap-ton of money for smaller company and then we never hear from the smaller company again. Whoopty doo.
But Apple's latest buyout of PrimeSense for $360 million is worth some discussion because the company's tech could become part of the building blocks for the living room of the future. That, or we could be looking at some serious Minority Report-type tablets or Macs.
PrimeSense was the company behind the 3D depth camera tech in the original Kinect (Microsoft has since moved on with its own in-house tech for the Xbox One's Kinect). Microsoft talked the big talk in 2010, and the hacks were a nice distraction, but ultimately, Kinect's primitive technology only managed to make us look like silly fools dancing around to Dance Central in front of our TVs.
Quest For The Living Room
It's been long-rumored that Apple has major plans to disrupt the living room. For the entirely of last year, it was rumored a Siri-powered "iTV" would arrive. It's the end of 2013, and that TV has yet to materialize.
The rumors of an Apple iTV first started to build up after Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography was released in October 2011. In it, Steve Jobs alluded to "finally crack[ing] it." The "it" referring to how to "create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use." Jobs claimed the TV "would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud" and you would no longer have to "fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels."
While Microsoft has moved beyond PrimeSense's 3D camera tech for controlling its Xbox One console, it's entirely possible Apple could combine its serious design chops and engineering expertise with PrimeSense's tech to create a gesture interface that works with any TV. Or, maybe we're looking at a future Apple TV set-top box that is controllable with hand gestures instead of that little aluminum remote.
How about gaming? Apple devices are perfect for casual gaming, which is, well, exactly what the original Kinect was good for. iOS games + Kinect-like gestures? It could disrupt the living room, the way the Wii and its waggly controllers leapfrogged the Xbox 360 and PS3 in sales.
Of course, revolutionizing TV is tougher than it sounds. The problem is not so much as building elegant hardware and software, as it is, getting content. Wrangling content and unbundling it from the traditional cable subscription packages is damn near impossible. You want à la carte cable channels? Keep dreaming.
Leaping Past Leap Motion
The most obvious use of PrimeSense's tech would be for controlling TV entertainment. But, let's go back in time to earlier this year when PrimeSense announced it had shrunk the 3D sensor that powered Kinect.
That shrinkage allows its motion/gesture control tech to fit inside of tablets and smartphones (iPad and iPhone anyone?). Just think about that for a second. And while tablets and smartphones would be a cool application, motion gestures could also be a natural fit for MacBook and iMacs. Think Leap Motion, but without the need for a little wired dongle.
In my Leap Motion review, I said "Tomorrow, the LMC might be the new way to operate a computer or play a video game" and that Leap Motion plans to incorporate its motion gesture tech right into computers (like the HP ENVY 17). Perhaps Apple is eyeing the same thing with its new PrimeSense technology?
Future Is Unpredictable
At the end of the day, we can only make guesses into the dark at what Apple is planning. In 2007, a lot of companies (*cough*BlackBerry*cough*) scoffed at the idea of the iPhone transforming our culture and computing forever. I'm not being a fanboy, but Android's UI would have been stuck looking like something built in the nineties if not for the iPhone. These modern smartphones have only been around for the last six years. Modern tablets have been around for only three. Who knows what tech will look like in the next six years.
Apple CEO Tim Cook's been teasing "the potential of exciting new product categories" since earlier this year. What kind of surprises are in store? Like the new mini trash can-shaped Mac Pro, we won't find out until Apple announces them.