Apple's Latest Deal Could Mean a Living Room Assault


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News that Iran and six global powers -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K,. and the U.S.-- have reached an interim agreement on the Middle Eastern state's nuclear program ought to lift risk assets today. The financial markets have long viewed Iran as a major source of political risk. Indeed, stocks opened above Friday's record high this morning, with the S&P 500 and the narrower, price-weighted Dow Jones Industrial Average up 0.03% and 0.18%, respectively, at 10:15 a.m. EST. Conversely, oil and gold are (predictably) lower this morning.

Enthusiasts love the design and functionality -- and the mobility -- of their iPhones and iPads. Now, though, Apple may be mounting a campaign on users' living rooms, too. That's one possible explanation for the iPhone maker's acquisition of PrimeSense, an Israeli company that develops 3-D recognition and machine vision technology, in a deal reportedly worth $360 million.

Why the living room? Well, PrimeSense is best known for furnishing the motion-detection capability in Microsoft's Kinect gaming sensor, which is part of the Xbox 360 gaming console. Kinect enables users to play games without a joystick; instead, users control the game play by moving their body, and Kinect captures the shifts via camera and motion sensors. (Microsoft stopped working with PrimeSense in order to develop its own technology, which is featured in the new Xbox One console that went on sale Friday.)

Moreover, Kinect also enables users to control television and video by voice or gesture commands. That naturally raises the possibility that Apple could be seeking to integrate that capability into a future Apple television set -- an offering that has long been rumored to be in the cards.

Of course, one can readily imagine applications for motion sensing/machine vision technology within Apple's existing product lineup, particularly the iPhone and the iPad. Indeed, since developing Kinect, PrimeSense has developed smaller sensors aimed at more compact devices. As AllThingsD noted, "the company's Capri model, for example, seems particularly well suited for the mobile market."

Apple is not in the habit of making large acquisitions; however, it's quite happy to do smaller deals -- it completed 15 acquisitions in its fiscal year ended in September -- often with the aim of purchasing complementary technology. In July 2012, for example, Apple bought AuthenTec, which developed fingerprint scanning technology. That technology was then integrated into the top-of-the-line iPhone 5S, which went on sale in September.

Whether PrimeSense's technology ends up in Apple's existing mobile devices or in an Apple TV set or smartwatch (or all of them!), this deal proves the iPhone maker certainly hasn't given up on innovation -- even if it means going outside the company to acquire it.

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Fool contributor Alex Dumortier, CFA has no position in any stocks mentioned; you can follow him on Twitter @longrunreturns. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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