Apple's Acquisition of AR Startup Leap Motion Fell Through Twice, Due to 'Eccentric' Founders and Poor Management

A new article by Business Insider today takes a look into failed talks that occurred between Apple and startup Leap Motion, which the Cupertino company tried to acquire twice in less than five years. Leap Motion is a company that focuses on making advances in the fields of virtual reality, augmented reality, and hand tracking technology.

According to multiple unnamed insiders, the most recent deal was nearing completion in spring 2018 before poor management, "swirling negatives," and "eccentric behavior" of Leap Motion's young co-founders Michael Buckwald and David Holz halted the talks.


Prior to that, in 2013 the first meeting was held between the two companies and things reportedly went very poorly after Holz -- then 24 years old -- said he had no interest in joining Apple. Sources say Holz was insulting to Apple's staff, told the company representatives that Apple was no longer innovative, its technology "sucked," and discussed the ways that Google's Android was better than iOS. During this time, Apple was said to have been mainly interested in Leap Motion's team to help work on its own AR and gesture-based projects.

Despite this poor first meeting, Apple continued to express interest in acquiring Leap Motion in the ensuing years, particularly as augmented reality and virtual reality technologies began to be more mainstream. Some of Leap Motion's original employees even left the company to work for Apple over the years, and are now helping with Apple's various AR projects, some former Leap Motion employees said.

The latest rumors point towards Apple developing AR smart glasses, which could potentially include a VR component. Apple's interest appears to lean more towards AR, since it has already backed AR as a service with the ARKit developer platform, and CEO Tim Cook often talks excitedly about the potential of AR.


Because of this, Apple made another attempt to acquire Leap Motion earlier this year, but talks fell through once again. Apple was on the verge of acquiring Leap Motion for between $30 million and $50 million in the spring, and had already started talks with the startup's human resources department and sent out offer letters to employees. As Leap Motion celebrated the upcoming acquisition, Apple pulled its offer.

Business Insider says it remains unclear why exactly Apple made this move at the last minute, but one thing appears certain: "the founders ultimately thought [Leap Motion] was more valuable than the offers on the table."

Many people close to the company say that the issues afflicting Leap Motion are a case of poor management: Much of the company's venture capital was spent on sleek office space in San Francisco's pricey SoMa neighborhood, complete with tech industry perks including beanbag chairs and daily lunches, and costly engineering salaries.

That Leap Motion should fall upon dire financial straits when the company's core technology had such great potential was described by many as a failure that could have been easily avoided.

Increasingly, it looks like Leap Motion's technology might end up bought as a hidden gem for a company looking to add its hand-tracking technology to future smartglasses products — but only if it can get the founders on board with the deal.

Now, Leap Motion is said to have new meetings lined up to explore other potential deals outside of Apple's offer, but it may be too late for the startup. According to sources familiar with the company, Apple's latest bid for Leap Motion was the AR/VR company's "last-ditch opportunity" to sell the business, which has faced financial instability for years.

Apple makes acquisitions of smaller companies like Leap Motion all the time, with news coming just in the past month of Apple acquiring Asaii and Spektral. Asaii is a music analytics platform that Apple will likely integrate into Apple Music and iTunes, while Spektral creates real-time green screens that can intelligently separate people and objects from their original backgrounds to overlay a new setting, which could be integrated into a future iPhone.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
25 months ago

told the company representatives that Apple was no longer innovative, its technology "sucked," and discussed the ways that Google's Android was better than iOS.

Sounds like some days here on MR lol wonder if he is a member ?
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
25 months ago

I see people reacting negatively to this but there is some truth to it, and it's good to see that there are people willing to tell the executives at Apple the unvarnished truth. Apple has been phoning it in for a long time now.

LOL. Just because you don’t like some of their design decisions doesn’t mean apple is the evil empire. They are the most valuable company on Earth, and clawed their way up from near ruin. When you liked what they were doing, they were probably almost out of business. Clearly they are making many millions of people happy with their products and services; far more than they made happy in the past.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
25 months ago
Yeah, those beanbag chairs are super-expensive.

And damn those "costly engineering salaries." They should just pay minimum wage to the people who make the actual products/software that make the company valuable in the first place.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
25 months ago
I've worked for a number of startups over the years. My key takeaways from these experiences are:

1) Founders are often extremely young, have virtually no work experience at all (let alone leadership experience), and are exceptionally poor at doing business; they know their technology and little else.

2) 99 times out of 100, the company's technology is not nearly as valuable as thought.

3) Founders are in total denial.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
25 months ago

Prior to that, in 2013 the first meeting was held between the two companies and things reportedly went very poorly after Holz -- then 24 years old -- said he had no interest in joining Apple. Sources say Holz was insulting to Apple's staff, told the company representatives that Apple was no longer innovative, its technology "sucked," and discussed the ways that Google's Android was better than iOS.

I see people reacting negatively to this but there is some truth to it, and it's good to see that there are people willing to tell the executives at Apple the unvarnished truth. Apple has been phoning it in for a long time now.

And in case we've all forgotten in the rush to denounce any tech people showing disrespect to Apple, Steve Jobs wasn't exactly cuddling up to corporate tech companies in his early days. The next Steve Jobs won't be a corporate suck-up.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
25 months ago
Didn't I already see this covered in a season of Silicon Valley?
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Leaker: 'iPhone 12 mini' and iPhone 12 Storage Capacities Start at 64GB, Pro Models at 128GB

Tuesday September 29, 2020 2:31 am PDT by
Rumors suggest Apple's iPhone 12 launch event will be held on October 13, with the more affordable 5.4 and 6.1-inch devices set to ship out ahead of the more expensive 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch Pro devices, and this morning hit-and-miss leaker Jon Prosser has further committed to that date by providing alleged details on Apple's first shipment of finalized iPhone 12 units. Prosser claims the...

Hands-On With iOS 14.2's New Shazam Music Recognition Toggle in Control Center

Monday September 28, 2020 2:35 pm PDT by
Shortly after launching iOS 14, Apple introduced an upcoming iOS 14.2 update, which is now available to developers and public beta testers ahead of a public release that could come at some point in October. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The iOS 14.2 update mainly focuses on the Control Center, introducing a new Music Recognition toggle that deepens the Shazam...

Top Stories: iOS 14 Feature Tour, 'iPhone 12 mini' Rumors, Apple Watch Band Controversy

Saturday September 26, 2020 6:00 am PDT by
Things started to calm down a bit this week following last week's rush of media event, Apple Watch and iPad launches, and the release of iOS 14 and other operating updates. But that doesn't mean there wasn't still a lot of news, from digging deeper into iOS 14 to more iPhone 12 rumors to the uproar over trying to exchange band sizes on the new Apple Watch. On top of all of that, we heard...

DigiTimes: 12.9-inch Mini-LED iPad Pro Arriving Early 2021, Mini-LED MacBook Coming Later

Tuesday September 29, 2020 4:18 am PDT by
Apple will launch a 12.9-inch mini LED-backlit iPad Pro in early 2021 and a mini LED-backlit MacBook in the second-half of next year, according to DigiTimes. The Taiwan-based industry publication claims Epistar will supply the over-10,000 mini LEDs used in each iPad Pro tablet. Meanwhile, Apple is expected to recruit Osram Opto as another supplier of mini LEDs for use in a new "high-end"...

iPhone 12 May Launch Earlier Than Usual in South Korea

Monday September 28, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
The upcoming iPhone 12 lineup may launch earlier than usual in South Korea, reports The Korea Herald. South Korean telecoms firms speaking to The Korea Herald have said that the iPhone 12 lineup will launch ahead of its usual schedule. Normally, the release of new iPhones in South Korea comes about one month after launch in the United States. Last year, the iPhone 11 arrived in South Korea ...

iOS 14: 'Phoenix 2' Space Shooter Delivers Playable Demo via App Clips

Saturday September 26, 2020 2:08 pm PDT by
One of the new features that arrived in iOS 14 is called App Clips. App Clips is described by Apple to be a "small part of your app" that can be available to users at just the right moment.App Clips focus on finishing one task quickly. An ideal App Clip experience allows users to open and complete a task in seconds. Instead of requiring an App Store download, they can be loaded and run via...

Epic Games Unlikely to Win Injunction in Ongoing Fortnite Battle With Apple, Jury Trial Possible

Monday September 28, 2020 1:14 pm PDT by
The ongoing legal dispute between Apple and Epic Games continued on today, with a preliminary injunction hearing taking place this morning. We're still waiting to hear the judge's official ruling, but it looks like Epic is not going to be granted an injunction to allow Fortnite back into the App Store as the case unfolds. Many of the arguments that lawyers for Apple and Epic Games made were...

iPhone 12 Production Lines at Foxconn's Zhengzhou Factory in China Running '24 Hours a Day'

Tuesday September 29, 2020 3:38 am PDT by
Apple contract manufacturer Foxconn is running its massive Zhengzhou factory in China 24 hours a day to produce the new iPhone 12, according to Chinese media reports. Apple's main iPhone manufacturer in China is said to be cancelling workers' holidays and introducing mandatory overtime with additional bonuses for longer-serving staff, according to information garnered from employees,...

'iPhone 12 mini' Name Reappears in Leaked Apple iPhone 12 Case Stickers

Friday September 25, 2020 1:58 am PDT by
Earlier this week a proven leaker claimed that the iPhone 12 lineup would be named "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max," and today the same nomenclature has appeared again in a photo depicting alleged stickers from unreleased Silicone iPhone cases originating from Apple's international distribution center in Ireland. The photo shows three stickers with the...

Apple Releases iOS 14.0.1 With Fix for Bug That Resets Default Apps After Rebooting

Thursday September 24, 2020 10:12 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS 14.0.1, the first update to the iOS 14 operating system that was released on September 16. Today's update is a bug fix update addressing issues that weren't able to be fixed in the initial iOS 14 launch. The iOS 14.0.1 update is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the new software, go to Settings > General > Software Update. ...