It was just last week that Apple hired a top U.S. VR researcher from Virginia Tech with VR experience in respect to gaming, sports, 3D user interfaces and beyond. To go along with that major hire is a new context that the Financial Times now reveals as being Apple amassing a major new team of VR experts that are already prototyping future VR headsets designed to keep up with Facebook's lead with the Oculus Rift or even Microsoft's HoloLens.
Although to some this appears to be some sort of new idea for Apple, it's not. Apple has had their existing engineers working on various inventions related to head mounted display system for some time now. In fact Patently Apple was first to report on this development as far back as 2009 in a patent report titled "Apple Wins Stunning Patent for New iPod Video Headset Display." You know, patents that most believe have absolutely no value – ha! Now everyone is falling over themselves to report on it.
In total, Apple has about seven patents on a video headset that you could review here. The most interesting twist of late is that Apple acquired Israeli based PrimeSense who was likewise working on a future VR headset that we briefly touched on in a report titled "Take a Peek at a Few Key PrimeSense Patents that Apple Gained."
So Apple has been working on both the hardware and software side of this kind of future device for some time now and has been acquiring and hiring specialists with display experience related to VR environments. Apple also hired a HoloLens audio engineer specializing in Augmented Reality last August. Below is another patent application from Apple on a VR headset that we found in Europe last year that was an offshoot of this 2013 patent filing.
The Financial Times further noted in their report that Apple's "latest acquisition in the area is Flyby Media, an augmented reality start-up that lets mobile devices 'see' the world around them. Flyby's team worked closely with Google in developing software for its 3D positioning technology Project Tango." Interestingly enough, the key technology behind Project Tango was from PrimeSense now owned by Apple.
In a new PrimeSense patent application report filed yesterday relating to a projection system we noted that "Apple's CEO Tim Cook fielded a question about virtual reality during this week's financial conference call. He replied that "In terms of VR, I don't think it's a niche. It's really cool and has some interesting applications." Obviously Cook was speaking from a positon of insight rather than it being a mere off-the-cuff comment.
In the end, while it's always great to read a byline like "Apple builds secret virtual reality unit" from a reputable publication like the Financial Times, it's really just the cherry on the top of an ongoing story that's been developing for years. We've been consistently reporting on patents and acquisitions relating to head mounted systems and VR applications for some time now, so it's anything but a shocker to hear today. Though to be honest, an 'official' confirmation is always great to learn about as it puts the project on the fast track once the news hits the established press. No, that doesn't mean it's going to launch in 2016, but it's getting closer and that's something we could all look forward to.