By Sinead Carew and Himank Sharma (Reuters) – Apple Inc will buy fingerprint sensor technology developer AuthenTec Inc for about $356 million, in a deal that could put its iPhone at the center of the emerging mobile payments market.
Apple is paying $8 per share, a 58 percent premium, for Melbourne, Florida-based AuthenTec, which counts Korean mobile device maker Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) among its big customers.
AuthenTec — which makes fingerprint sensor chips used in personal computers and mobile devices — is one of the very few public companies that has been acquired by Apple, a company that rarely does acquisitions and tends to buy mostly startups when looking for cutting-edge technology.
Shares of AuthenTec surged $3.25, or 64 percent, to $8.32 on Nasdaq in afternoon trading. Apple stock was up $3.89 at $578.77.
AuthenTec, which was spun off from Harris Semiconductor in 1998 and went public in 2007, provides mobile security software licenses to companies like Samsung, and fingerprint sensor technology to computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N) and Dell Inc (DELL.O).
Its fingerprint technology, which is also used in mobile phones in Japan for authentication of mobile payments, could help Apple bring those services to markets such as the United States, where mobile wallet services have been slow to catch on.
Some analysts expect the next version of the iPhone to include some form of mobile payments technology.
An Apple spokesman declined to comment on how Apple plans to use AuthenTec’s technology.
While companies such as Apple rival Google Inc (GOOG.O) already have mobile payments offerings, such services are not widely used in the United States and have been dogged by security concerns.
“To have security behind it would give people peace of mind. It could be a major differentiator for them,” said Dougherty & Co analyst Charlie Anderson, who noted that fingerprints are more secure than passwords because they cannot be copied or stolen.
Anderson said Apple was buying a rich portfolio of patents from AuthenTec that could help it dominate mobile payments.
Mobile wallet users will want to be sure their money is safe and would like something more secure and easier to use than passwords that have to be typed in, analysts said.
“If you’re storing credit card information in your phone for mobile payments, it would be more secure if it has fingerprint authentication rather than just a password protection,” BWS Financial analyst Khorsand Hamed said.
Anderson said Apple may continue to offer AuthenTec’s existing products to its rivals to help gain regulatory approval but it may keep future developments for its own products.
BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis said AuthenTec technology could potentially help Apple combat problems such as theft of its more portable products such as iPhones.
“If they could have a way where they could tie the phone to a user more tightly, that would make sense for them,” he said.
He described the price tag for AuthenTec as a drop in the bucket of Apple’s cash pile of $117.2 billion, and noted the company had not been as acquisitive as some other technology businesses.
“We’ll see if it’s a one off or if Tim Cook will start to level his cash balance and acquire talent,” Gillis said, referring to Apple’s chief executive.
AuthenTec, which also counts Lenovo Group Ltd (0992.HK) and Fujitsu Ltd (6702.T) as customers, has annual revenue of about $70 million.
Piper Jaffray advised in the deal, the company said.
(Additional reporting by Poornima Gupta in San Francisco; Editing by Ted Kerr, Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)