Apple buys PrimeSense: What is Apple planning to do with purchase of 3-D-sensor company?

Apple has bought a 3-D-sensor company that helped build Microsoft's motion-control system Kinect, stirring curiosity about what the tech giant might be up to behind closed doors in Cupertino.

PrimeSense is an Israel-based company that specializes in sensors that let users interact with mobile devices like tablets and smartphones by waving their hands.

The company's technology was used to help create Kinect, rolled out for the Xbox 360 in 2010 as a way for gamers to put down the controller and use their bodies and voices to play games. It's been incorporated further into the new Xbox One console, letting users control movies and other media with their voices.

Apple had reportedly been in talks with PrimeSense since July. The deal was sealed for a reported $360 million.

A statement released by Apple in response to queries resulted in the same "non-confirmation confirmation" it has released after past acquisitions.

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," the statement says.

PrimeSense has confirmed the purchase but offered no further details.

The purchase, of course, immediately spurred speculation about what Apple might have in mind.

"Apple could be thinking a number of things, from gaming on iPads to a way to interact with Apple TV or the rumored TV set," said Carolina Milanesi, a tech analyst with Gartner Research.

She said she doubts Apple is working on a dedicated gaming device. Instead, she speculated, the company could be looking at a way to connect multiple devices and operate them at the same time.

"Gesture certainly has a place in complementing touch and voice as a way to interact with different devices," she said. "Gesture could be particularly useful in interacting with different screens in the home."

The less exciting possibility is that we'll never see a product or feature as a direct result of the buyout.

"Apple has done a series of acquisitions that we have not seen through as far as a practical implementation of the technology," Milanesi said.

But as the news spread Monday, it was the possibility of the long-rumored Apple TV set that many were thinking about. Apple-centric blog 9to5 Mac reported in September that Apple was testing motion-sensor technology for television products.

To some, the PrimeSense purchase signals that Apple is working on something truly different. The television has supposedly been in the works for years, and the company is widely expected to be rolling out a smartwatch in the not-too-distant future.

But incremental upgrades to its popular iPhone and iPad lines in recent years have led some observers to say the company has lost its knack for groundbreaking innovation. That's a concept Milanesi rejects.

"To think that Apple is not innovating just because we do not see a new category of product hitting the market is quite shortsighted," she said.

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