During an Apple earnings call last week, CEO Tim Cook responded to a question regarding virtual reality with a rather vague response, saying: “In terms of VR, I don’t think it’s a niche. It’s really cool and has some interesting applications.”
However, a recent report from the Financial Times indicates that Apple might be have a “secret” team working on augmented and virtual reality. Apple headset prototypes would add to other companies working on a VR system: Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s Hololens.
Could Apple be trying to catch up to other companies leading the development of virtual reality or augmented reality products? Here’s what we know so far:
The Financial Times
reports that Apple already has a team assembled to work on augmented and virtual reality. Given a few recent hires and business acquirements, this “secret” team could be real. Apple supposedly acquired talent from the Microsoft HoloLens team and a few team members who worked on Lytro’s light field camera.
The company has reportedly acquired Flyby Media, a start-up that develops an augmented reality through mapping spaces using smartphones. This essentially allows a mobile device to “see” the world around it. The Flyby team previously worked with Google to develop software for Project Tango, a 3D positioning technology that allows mobile devices to determine where they are located in space.
Another interesting move Apple recently made is it’s new hire of Doug Bowman, one of the nation’s leading experts on virtual and augmented reality. Bowman is a computer tech professor from Virginia Tech and is listed as a grant winner for the HoloLens research project. Bowman has written a book—3D User Interfaces: Theory and Practice; on virtual and augmented reality. Bowman appears to be quite skilled in creating 3D user interfaces, as seen in a video a wearable display and full surround display technology prototype he’s been working on.
Though this is old news, we also can’t forget that Apple purchased the Israeli motion-sensing company, PrimeSense, back in 2013. Afterward, they even recruited and made a deal with Metaio and Faceshift, two other VR and AR companies.
The first thought on what Apple would do with virtual reality technology is create a headset. There have been reports on iPhone-related headset patents granted by USPTO (originally filed back in 2008). The headset design allows a user to use their iPhone as a virtual reality display. This is just a patent, so it’s speculation. Still, tied in with the other information we know, it seems Apple could very well be working on this “secret” project.
Though nothing has officially been confirmed and it’s not entirely clear how far in the game Apple is, given the movement of its Silicon Valley rivals it’s not totally a surprise to see Apple looking to work in the virtual reality space. Even if all they’re doing is experimenting for now, all information seems to point toward something being built in secrecy.