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Image from Apple's successful patent application for a VR headset
 
Apple and Virtual Reality

Is Apple Building a Virtual Reality Device Team? Jonathan Leger sizes up the evidence

February 2 2016: Apple has made a series of acquisitions that have sparked rumors that the IT company could be working on a new, top secret virtual reality product.
If the rumors are true, then Apple is following in the footsteps of Facebook and Google, as well as other niche companies that have their own VR headsets and apps.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has certainly had a good run so far. The company recently announced that it had enjoyed its most profitable quarter to date, but sales of the latest iPhone have slowed, and if the company wants to continue that profitable trend it will need to find new growth avenues.

Enter The World of VR|
Virtual reality and augmented reality are two obvious new directions for the company. Over  the last few years, VR has seen something of a resurgence in popularity. The Oculus Rift VR headset has attracted a lot of attention in the gaming space, and Apple would naturally want to be the company that brought VR out of the hardcore gaming niche and into the mainstream. Linc Gasking, owner of 8i, a virtual reality specialist company, noted that Apple already owns the ‘in your pocket’ computing space, and the next big user interface for technology will not be handhelds, but VR and AR.
Facebook acquired Oculus Rift, and is looking to release that to the mainstream in 2016 – the headsets being used by gamers are development units and beta units that are bulky and in some cases lower spec than the final unit will be. Google’s more affordable Cardboard is more than a year and a half old. If those two tech giants can enter the world of VR, where is Apple’s entry?
Apple is rarely first to market – but when it does make a product it does it well. It popularized the smartphone, the digital audio player and the tablet PC. With its expertise it is likely that it will be the one company that can do VR right.
Earlier this year, Apple hired Doug Bowman – a professor from Virginia Tech. Dr Bowman has focused his research work on VR and related fields, and this puts him in a good position to head the tech giant’s research. Combine this with the recent acquisition of a company called Flyby Media, that works on Augmented Reality, and it doesn’t take a degree in business to figure out that there could be a shift in focus at the company towards VR over the next couple of years.

Quietly Building a Killer Product
It may sound as though Apple is a little late to the part, but that isn’t the case. Back in 2008, Apple applied for a patent for a new VR headset that is a lot like Google Cardboard. They acquired Prime Sense, a motion sensing company, back in 2013, and then they acquired Metaio, an augmented reality company based in Germany, last year.
Apple has recruited a team of other experts that have experience in AR and VR, and collectively they appear to have an incredibly sound VR team.

Perfect TimingConsidering that Palmer Luckey – the creator of the Oculus Rift, was on the cover of Time Magazine last August, and the medium has been embraced by a number of stars and media companies, now is the perfect time to be getting in to VR. The NBA has been broadcast in a VR format, as have the latest democratic debates, and Rihanna made a VR music video recently. Admittedly, the selection of entertainment available in VR is limited right now, but that will change over the next few months and years – remember the time when HD video was rare, and only a handful of companies were making them?
It’s not unreasonable to expect that at some point in the next couple of years we could see VR rooms in the average household, just like we now have ‘games rooms’ and previous generations had ‘TV rooms’.
Not everyone can use the current generation of VR technology. There are some people who have problems with motion sickness and vertigo because of it. That could change over time, however, as developers find ways to reduce the problems and make things more stable and higher resolution.
Apple’s investment in virtual reality is well timed, and the company is sure to make a massive splash with whatever device it decides to release. Whether this will be the generation for which VR succeeds remains to be seen, but most analysts agree that by 2020 VR will be a big thing. It pays to watch what the tech giants are doing, and if you want to impress your friends and be ahead of the curve, this generation of devices will be worth a look!

Jonathan Leger is a small business owner and freelance writer. He also runs a popular question and answer site at http://answerthis.co




    


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