Here are the signs that point to Apple's next big innovation in computing, according to one analyst

MetaioMetaio/YouTubeMetaio’s technology being used on an iPad.

Apple could be working on its own augmented reality technology, which would be a first for the company which usually focuses on mainstream consumer products such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, according to Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster.

Munster has picked up on a few clues within the industry that indicate Apple could be working on some type of augmented reality device. For example, the company acquired a German augmented reality startup called Metaio earlier this year, which was reported back in May.

Munster notes that Metaio owns 171 worlwide patents related to augmented reality technology, which would put Apple in 11th place for the number of augmented reality and head-mounted display patents held. Google, Microsoft, Sony, and Samsung still place ahead of Apple in that regard.

Apple also acquired a company called PrimeSense back in 2013, and we have yet to see its technology appear in any of Apple’s products. PrimeSense makes cameras that can sense motion, and its best known for making the cameras in Microsoft’s Kinect accessory for the Xbox.

Munster initially predicted that PrimeSense’s tech could be used for motion detection inside the long-fabled Apple television, but that ended up being a bust. Now, however, Munster acknowledges that those types of sensors could benefit an AR headset, since the motion detection cameras could be used for indoor navigation.

The company also recently poached an audio engineer from Microsoft who worked on its HoloLens augmented reality headset. According to LinkedIn, an Apple engineer hired in July named Nick Thompson previously worked as the audio hardware engineering lead at Microsoft for the HoloLens.

Audio is important in augmented reality, says Munster, because positional audio can make the experience more convincing (i.e. feeling like a certain object is in front of you or behind you, etc.).

Apple mobile virtual reality patentUnited States Patent and Trademark OfficeApple patent for heads-up display

If Apple is working on an augmented reality project, it would be doing so at a time in which almost every other major technology company is exploring the space. Microsoft, for instance, has been showing off its HoloLens headset at recent events.

Google initially hyped its augmented reality efforts with Google Glass back in 2012, and it’s said to be working on an enterprise-focused version of the headset too. Google Ventures has also invested heavily in Magic Leap, a secretive company that’s working on its own augmented reality platform that’s supposed to be mind-blowing.

This would be the first time Apple has explored the augmented reality field, although it has filed patents for technology related to AR in the past. One, for instance, covers “interactive holograms,” while another describes a head-mounted display.

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