Apple has assembled a massive team of people to working on prototypes for virtual and augmented reality headsets, according to the Financial Times.
The team apparently has "hundreds" of people, consisting of experts within the fields of virtual and augmented reality, employees from companies Apple has acquired over the last few years, and employees poached from rivals that are working on similar technologies, like Microsoft.
The FT says Apple has been “building prototypes of possible headset configurations for several months.” In other words, it sounds like Apple is just getting started in this new venture, since it could take awhile for Apple to settle on final designs and technical capabilities.
Apple has been dropping hints over the last year or so that it’s interested in building some kind of virtual or augmented reality product — either a headset, or software, or both. Virtual reality is when you can only see and hear what’s in the digital world (with help of goggles and a headset), while augmented reality layers 3D digital elements on top of what you see in the real world.
Apple’s been busy acquiring talent around these new types of technology:
- In January, Apple hired a prominent virtual reality researcher who taught at Virginia Tech, and in November, it bought a computer vision startup that helped make some of the visual effects in the last “Star Wars” movie.
- In May, Apple bought an augmented reality company that could let you see what it’s like to have different pieces of Ikea furniture in your home, for example.
The FT reports Apple has bought yet another company: Flyby Media, a startup that uses augmented reality to help mobile devices capture maps of the environment in real-time. Flyby has notably worked with Google on its Project Tango technology, which lets devices “see” the world around them.
Apple working in parallel on both augmented and virtual reality isn’t surprising, since these bleeding edge technologies are also being developed by Apple’s biggest rivals like Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Facebook. If Apple didn’t take the magical aspects of virtual and augmented reality seriously — and soon — it could have missed out on the next big thing in computing.
Just look what you can do with Microsoft's augmented reality headset, HoloLens:
This week, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook was asked about virtual reality during a conference call with investors — and for the first time, he acknowledged its appeal.
“I don’t think it’s a niche,” Cook said. “It is really cool and has some interesting applications.”
It’s important to note one thing that can’t possibly be described by Cook or any other text: these technologies are magical. Augmented and virtual reality are truly futuristic and unbelievable, and they’re something every person needs to experience to truly understand the potential. Based on this report, it looks like Apple has seen the potential, and it’s moving full-steam ahead.