Apple is actively growing a secret team building VR and AR headsets, reports The Financial Times. If true, the article represents the most substantive example yet of Apple’s efforts to develop a mixed reality platform to outshine Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s HoloLens.
The article by Tim Bradshaw also reports Apple acquired Flyby Media, an AR startup that provided Project Tango software for object recognition and 3D positioning. The acquisiton is reminicscent of Apple’s 2013 purchase of PrimeSense, which provided the depth sensor inside the original Microsoft Kinect. In other words, Apple is buying up technology powering some of the innovative mixed reality efforts of its biggest competitors.
Apple also purchased AR startup MetaIO and facial recognition and animation startup Faceshift. Just a few days ago Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about VR and said “I don’t think it’s a niche…it’s really cool and has some interesting applications.” The comment came as earnings suggest Apple’s iPhone might be peaking and that future growth at the company will have to come elsewhere.
Apple also acquired Beats headphones and rumors indicate the tech giant is considering phasing out the headphone jack on its mobile devices. Beats helped Apple reshape its core iTunes service around a monthly streaming plan but if Apple is building a VR platform, audio is half of the experience. Taking more control of the audio stack and injecting more sound experts into the company wouldn’t hurt.
Bradshaw also recently broke the story Apple hired VR expert Doug Bowman. His new report says Apple “has been building prototypes of possible headset configurations for several months.” Apple filed a number of VR-related patents over the years but the company is notoriously secretive and keeps projects in quiet development for years until it creates an integrated hardware and software package deemed fit to be marketed as “revolutionary.”
While he has long been absent from Apple, in 2014 co-founder Steve Wozniak responded to a question about VR and said “I do think that is going to be the next big thing.” It’s increasingly looking like current Apple management is starting to agree with him.