Rumours surrounding Apple’s entry into the immersive technology sector have been circulating for years. But as both AR and VR retail products begin to ship this year, Apple’s latest hire has lead an analyst at Piper Jaffray to suggest that “…we believe Apple has a team exploring the AR space.”

Checking back over Road to VR’s archives, we’ve reported on no less than 6 stories speculating on Apple’s possible machinations regarding it’s development of immersive technologies. Between evidence of multiple patent filings, job ads and staff hiring, it seems difficult to dispute that Cupertino are working on something – yet nothing has ever been officially confirmed.

The latest appointment of a ‘CPU Software and Audio Engineer’, one Nick Thompson, reportedly from Microsoft’s HoloLens engineering staff, adds yet more fuel to that AR fire. Even more interestingly, this is actually Thompson returning to the Apple fold – as (according to Apple Insider) his LinkedIn profile indicates a previous stint at the technology giant.

One of Apple’s more recent patent filings, illustrating ideas for AR tech

Analyst at Piper Jaffray, Gene Munster, has taken the latest news as a strong enough evidence that Apple have significant internal resources allocated to building new AR technologies. “Based on recent acquisitions of augmented reality companies, hiring of a key Microsoft Hololens employee, and conversations with industry contacts within the virtual and augmented reality spaces, we believe Apple has a team exploring the AR space,” Jaffray says, according to Street Insider.

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Munster also notes Apple’s acquisition of AR company Metaio, who hold no less than 171 worldwide patents and pending applications, is yet another recent sign Apple are tooling-up to step into the augmented reality technology ring.

microsoft hololens ar headset
Microsoft’s HoloLens proved that compelling Augmented Reality is possible right now

Since HoloLens’ impressive debut at Microsoft’s Windows 10 press event back in January this year, AR’s profile has been boosted as a technology of interest in the public eye. What’s more, it was tangible evidence that such hardware is possible with technology that exists today. And of course, let’s not forget Magic Leap, a product conversely lacking in any tangibility (it’s yet to be demo’d to public or press as yet), that is nevertheless capable of producing great excitement in the industry.

2016 may well be ‘the year of VR’, but AR seems to be hot on its heels as a consumer prospect.

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  • Don Gateley

    I look for them to acquire Magic Leap. Their stealth has been a give away.

    • kalqlate

      Quite doubtful. Magic Leap is already heavily financially boosted and probably value themselves far beyond the $2 billion of Facebook’s Oculus acquisition. Further, from all information revealed thus far, the Magic Leap product is beyond the phases where Apple would like to influence design and functionality. Magic Leap is stealthy because they have high confidence that they have a unique technology and want to keep it that way to some degree–their published patents have revealed much of their methodology. Meanwhile, Stanford Research has revealed a simplified light field display technology for VR. From that I’d project that many, including Apple, are already working out their own light field technology. Also, given the huge list of AR patents held by Metaio, I’m sure Apple paid a pretty penny to acquire them, and they’re not likely to become over-invested by paying a beyond over-the-top amount for Magic Leap.

  • Stray Toaster

    My guess: Apple’s interest in AR has everything to do with Project Titan i.e. the Apple car. Apple’s take on the car will be a touch-capable windscreen that displays all the information that is relevant to the driver, such as speed, direction, temperature, traffic reports, track playing, time to destination, etc. No dashboard to look down on; the windscreen will be the dashboard.

    • kalqlate

      Don’t forget that Apple is already heavily steeped in desktop and handheld computing. VR for desktop and mobile will be big, but AR for those platforms will be much MUCH bigger. (AR is a comparatively natural extension of ordinary life–AR augments everyday life without the disruption that VR requires.) So, true, Apple may have some interest in AR for use in a possible Apple car, but their interest in AR naturally goes where the demand and use will be highest.