VR/AR Business Roundup: Apple, Google, Starbreeze, Vine and Rothenberg

by Greg Gopman • January 25th, 2016

Huge hardware releases are on the way as 2016 is becoming a big year for the budding VR industry. Startups are building the future one piece at a time while large corporations like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Sony can’t afford to miss out on the next wave of technology. So practically every week now more news breaks about major investments, intriguing acquisitions, creative innovations, and significant new hires by some of the biggest names in the scene. A lot of this can get lost in the shuffle so we plan to regularly round up these events into one place. If you have some news you think belongs in a future roundup, email [email protected].

Last week: Apple hired a VR guru to prepare them for competition against Google and Facebook, YouTube poached a VR evangelist from Jaunt, Starbreeze received a major investment and more.

Apple hires VR pioneer

Apple hired Doug Bowman to work on an undisclosed project. Bowman comes to Apple after taking a sabbatical from his position as a professor of computer sciences at Virginia Tech. Bowman may not be the most familiar name but his work in the industry is prolific. He co-authored a textbook titled 3D User Interfaces: Theory and Practice all the way back in 2004 – a full 10 years before VR became big business when Facebook acquired Oculus. According to his Virginia Tech profile, Bowman is also the director of the school’s Center for Computer Human Interaction. He is also the principal investigator of the 3D Interaction Group, and served as chair for the IEEE Virtual Reality Conference from 2007-2008.

YouTube poaches Jaunt VP, hires Vine manager

Scott Broock took to Twitter to announce his appointment as VR Evangelist for YouTube.

Broock was previously the VP of content for cinematic VR startup Jaunt. Before that he was WIRED’s executive producer for original content, and he cut his teeth in production with network TV programs for Nickelodeon and ABC.

Google representatives confirmed Broock’s hiring but declined to comment further. Broock has a demonstrated ability to woo content creators to emerging new platforms and this is more than likely what being a VR evangelist for YouTube would entail. Google’s YouTube is steadily introducing more 360-degree video onto its site, but so have competitors like Facebook. When it comes to immersive video the question is no longer if it will happen, it is who will have the best content and the most eyeballs for it. By hiring Broock, Google (a.k.a. Alphabet) is taking one of its most important properties, YouTube, and strengthening its evolution as a platform for VR content. Broock is most likely tasked with convincing creators, and viewers, that YouTube is the right place for realtors to upload their 360-degree media.

Earlier this month, Google put Scott Bavor in charge of the company’s VR efforts. While Cardboard introduces millions to the basic concepts of VR, YouTube, Android and even the Chrome browser could represent important software and services for future consumer mixed reality products.

In addition to Broock’s hiring, job postings for a Hardware Engineering Technical Lead Manager, and a PCB Layout Engineer were listed this week on the company’s website. Both positions specifically mention VR and support the notion that Google may be preparing to launch a more robust piece of hardware sooner rather than later.

Google also reportedly hired Jason Toff, head of the Twitter owned short-video service Vine. Toff announced he will be leaving that post to pursue ventures in the VR space. Toff’s departure is one piece of a mass exodus currently taking place at Twitter.

Toff began his tech career as a product manager for Google, and then YouTube.

Starbreeze Studios Receives $40 Million Investment

Video game developer turned aspiring headset manufacturer Starbreeze Studios announced this week that it has received a $40 million investment from Korean juggernaut, Smilegate. Smilegate is the creator of Crossfire, an online FPS that is hugely popular in Asian markets with more than 400 million registered users.

The investment will create a strategic partnership that allows Starbreeze to create its own Crossfire title and to use Smilegate platforms to launch an Asian expansion of its existing Walking Dead and Payday franchises.

This news was quickly followed by Starbreeze’s announcement at the VRLA Winter Expo that it will be opening a VR arcade in Los Angeles called Project Starcade.

Drew Olanoff leaves TechCrunch for River Studios at Rothenberg Ventures

TechCrunch writer Drew Olanoff moved to Rothenberg Ventures where he’ll be heading up communications for the River Studios team, which is making VR experiences that can “inspire empathy and wonder in people.”

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