Rumors swirled last week that Apple was going to be buying Israeli company PrimeSense, which provided the crucial 3D-sensing tech used for the original Xbox 360 Kinect. Then on Sunday, Apple confirmed the purchase, though its reasoning for the acquisition remained a mystery. We’ve speculated here on Best Techie that PrimeSense could add motion-control to the forthcoming Apple TV revision, much like the Kinect’s integration with the Xbox’s media-viewing capabilities.

But a post by tech writer Jessica Lessin from yesterday reports that the buy may have had nothing to do with television at all—and instead may be a move to help resurrect Apple’s failed Maps service. Lessin cites “industry sources” and “one person familiar with the company” who have told her that PrimeSense’s chips are geared more towards 3D mapping, not motion-sensing.

The assessment that PrimeSense isn’t in the game of motion-sensing was made pretty clear when Microsoft decided to go it alone for its newest iteration of the Kinect, which is bundled in the Xbox One. Furthermore, Apple needs a leg up in its mapping services, as we all remember the Apple Maps debacle from last year.

While Lessin’s post is still primarily speculative, it has a ring of accuracy to it. When I initially wrote about the PrimeSense acquisition, it didn’t seem as though Apple would actually want the company’s spotty motion-sensing tech anywhere near its iTV (or Apple TV, or whatever they wind up calling it). As interesting a premise as the Kinect’s motion controlling offered, the reality was that the original Kinect failed to deliver. I couldn’t see adding that to what I’m sure is going to be a pretty major product for Apple.

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But 3D mapping? That makes a lot more sense. It’s a limited enough application of PrimeSense’s tech that it might actually work, and it’s another arrow in Apple’s map-making quiver. Lessin’s post even points out that PrimeSense’s chips are used in 3D-camera-maker Matterport’s products.

So it seems that Apple hasn’t given up on competing with Google in the map-making space. This is a relief for those looking forward to iTV. But if even PrimeSense isn’t enough to help Apple catch up to Google, it could cause headaches for future iPhone users.


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