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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.