Earlier this week, during an Apple conference call to discuss its latest round of gargantuan earnings, CEO Tim Cook had reasonably kind things to say about virtual reality. He said, “It’s really cool, and has some interesting applications.”
The Apple rumour mill, being what it is, immediately began running at full steam, and the Internet assumed that Apple had a big VR project in the works. That seemed a bit presumptuous, even with patent applications showing that Apple has tested out iPhone-encasing VR concepts in the past (seen above). However, this may be one case where the assumption actually pans out.
The Financial Times reports today that Apple has a team comprised of hundreds of people working on virtual and augmented reality headsets and applications, and that they’ve built various hardware prototypes for several months now. Apple’s interest was reportedly piqued by surging interest in the Oculus Rift, and the company has built its team primarily by acquiring smaller companies and their talent.
For example, Apple recently bought Flyby Media, an augmented reality team that worked with Google to create software for Project Tango. Before that, the company acquired companies like Faceshift, Metaio, and PrimeSense, all of which had technology or applications that could be folded into a VR or AR device/experience.
Apple has also poached employees from the likes of Microsoft (perhaps HoloLens designers?), the report says, as well as hired several ex-Lytro staffers. And just last week, word came that Apple had hired Doug Bowman, a top VR researcher from Virginia Tech university. All told, it sounds like the company is pouring a lot of money and talent into a possible VR or AR device – and the size and secrecy of the team reminds us of Apple’s purported electric car project.
Beyond word of a secret, significant team, we don’t have anything more concrete to go on: no word on whether it will indeed be an iPhone-based viewer or something standalone, and certainly no sense of a release target or price. And The Financial Times notes that Apple previously investigated VR possibilities a decade ago under Steve Jobs and opted to wait until the technology matured.
Clearly, the tech is ready, as Apple’s industry rivals continue showing. Now it’s time to see how Apple tries to put its own distinctive touch on it.