Yesterday Apple held a keynote presentation to update the world on their latest products. While the company didn’t have any announcements on the AR/VR front, it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before they enter the fray.

It’s too early for Apple to jump into the AR/VR game. That much was made clear on stage at the company’s latest keynote where they revealed the iPhone 7 and the Apple Watch Series 2. As an electronics company, Apple’s general strategy seems to be to wait until a market is well established before joining it, then attempt to create an Apple-idealized product for that market. Given the size of the AR/VR market today, and its practical applications for a broad groups of users, it’s too early for the company to execute that plan.

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No that’s (sadly) not a stereo camera on the iPhone 7

But that doesn’t mean Apple isn’t actively engaged in AR/VR research and development. In fact, over the last few years the company has been bulking up its expertise in the field, and likely now has a sizeable operation dedicated to exploring the potential applications as applied to its product portfolio. Here’s how we know.

Hiring

It was as far back as 2014 that we spotted apple hiring an ‘App Engineer’ who would “create high performance apps that integrate with Virtual Reality systems for prototyping and user testing.” Not a month later and the company was seeking four additional hires with immersive tech talent, including a ‘VR/AR Programmer’.

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Then there was Apple’s hiring of Doug Bowman, Director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech, and an influential figure in the world of virtual reality academia.

Patents

apple virtual reality hmd head mounted display vr headset patent

Apple is infamous for its patent strategy and you shouldn’t be surprised to find that they’re well into it in the AR/VR space. In fact, Apple’s patents in this field tell us that the company has been thinking about immersive wearables for a long time; patents filed at least as far back as 2007 show a device that looks much like the VR headsets we see today. Apple has a number of head mounted display patents, including one which shows a headset that would dock with a mobile device, and another for an augmented reality display.

Acquisitions

oculus touch apple marketing
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Starting with Apple’s purchase of augmented reality firm Metaio in 2015, the company has made a string of AR and computer-vision related acquisitions; Faceshift (marker-less facial mapping and animation), Emotient (facial expression recognition & analysis), and Flyby Media (large-scale SLAM, indoor navigation, sensor fusion, image recognition, and 3D tracking) have all been snatched up in the last 8 months, further bolstering Apple’s AR/VR talent pool and patent portfolio.

Competition

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What do you do when your biggest competitors—who also happen to be among the largest tech companies in the world—are all working on AR/VR tech? Well, you better get there too. If AR and VR catch on, the products with those features are the ones that customers will choose.

Apple has watched over the last few years as the likes of Samsung, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Intel, Qualcomm, and more have made initiatives in the immersive technology space into significant parts of their forward-looking strategy.

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It’s early but the evidence is clear, Apple is hard at work developing practical applications for AR/VR tech, and, as long as the market develops into something significant, you can bet they will be making a splash in the space in the near future.

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  • I know their days as scrappy underdog are over, but it’s still exciting to think of Apple coming to market with a headset. Just the sheer level of engineering they bring to their products should raise the field. Not to mention the public awareness it will draw to VR/AR in general.

    I think they’ll wait until markerless inside out tracking is solid for mobile and then opt for an iPhone driven product. 4K, facial tracking, and eye tracking are all landmarks I expect they’d like to reach as well. True VR telepresence in FaceTime with facial rendering and positional presence, a near lack of screen door, and foveated rendering should combine to represent the level of refinement I’d imagine they’d like to see in their first blush at VR.

  • DiGiCT Ltd

    I think apple will eventually come with a device, but its not going to be as we know it now.
    The real replacement for phones in future will be AR glasses.
    Apple might be thinking about that change, as they did with their ipod that time and as they did with iphone being a phone without keys.

    Apple can only be apple if they could make a new device possibly AR based which going to replace all out current computers, phones and pads.
    The problem with AR at this moment is however that it requires still a lot of testing and improvements to make it a full feature product.

    Hololens is “OK” but far away on preformance and results.
    They better hurry though as google is also working hard to get their full working AR solution out.

    Let’s just wait and see if Apple can surprise us all again, but im afraid they cant as Apple was clearly most Steve Jobs and since he is not there anymore, there is not much been coming out from Apple anymore.

  • Sad. I used to love Apple when it was innovative. No expandable memory, they remove the audio jack upsetting almost everyone when they could have made it optional for a few years. They try and succeed in patenting something that Google has made and distributed for years. (cardboard). Is anyone home at the patent office? Maybe in five years they might have a VR headset. I left Apple and went to Samsung because I was tired of waiting for the phone to get larger. I waited years….and years…and years.
    Oculus is acting just like Apple except that Apple meets it’s delivery dates and doesn’t upset it’s developers by mot releasing controllers to them. They both act like out of touch, spoiled brats.

    • Jeff

      Innovation comes with a price. Products can be so innovative that they arrive before a market exists, and the company fails. This is nothing new. Thomas Edison is reported to say essentially Invent nothing until you have created a market for it. Apple has learned this lesson well, although it does seem that they ‘miss the boat’ from time to time. The best way to describe the Apple experience is that their products just work. You don’t have to constantly fiddle with them.