Apple has been quietly moving into a new market: Augmented Reality.
The company has acquired two startups — Metaio and Faceshift — that produce software that can warp the reality around you, either adding in things (augmented) or changing everything altogether (virtual).
Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, which is set to launch in 2016, sets up the user in a “mixed reality”: Windows apps appear alongside real world things, such as a table.
Magic Leap, a Google-backed company that has received over $500 million (£331 million) in funding, also works to “augment” reality.
Separately, Google also makes its Cardboard headset which uses a regular Android phone to create a virtual reality experience, changing everything the user sees.
Apple has not demoed any product that relates to either virtual reality or augmented reality, but the recent acquisitions of Metaio and Faceshift — both of which were for an unknown amount — alongside patent applications, and news leaks point to the company’s interest in the area.
Here’s what both acquisitions offer:
Metaio: Apple acquired the company in May, for an unknown sum. One of the demos, which is available on YouTube, shows a user in a Ferrari showroom getting information about the car on an iPad-like device.
Metaio had over 150,000 users worldwide when Apple bought the company.
Faceshift: Acquired in November, the software behind Faceshift was used to create parts of the new “Star Wars” film and could, according to The Motley Fool, be used to create virtual environment. Creating visuals on-the-fly is a key technology for augmented reality devices and Faceshift does just that.
Apple has also patented a VR headset for the iPhone, which looked a lot like Google’s Cardboard. Mark Gurman, one of the best connected Apple bloggers, also reported that the company was looking at adding an augmented reality feature to its Maps app.
Apple is famed for holding back until exactly the right moment to launch a product. Apple’s philosophy — that it’s better to be late, but right, than early and wrong — has worked wonders, creating a series of successful products. The iPod was not the first MP3 player, the iPhone was not the first smartphone, the iPad was not the first tablet, and the Watch was not the first smartwatch.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is only just about to arrive in the hands of developers and Magic Leap does not currently have a product to market, meaning that Apple still has plenty of time to perfect whatever the acquisitions are being used for.