Doesn’t it constantly seem like Apple is preparing to announce an augmented reality product? The company’s been acquiring AR companies for years, and it brought AR to iOS devices via ARKit, but it has yet to say that it plans to release a full-blown headset of its own. Every time it seems like the company isn’t even close to making such an announcement, new information about something AR-related blows in the rumor mill’s vanes.
AppleInsider reports that “more than half a dozen incognito Apple representatives, including employees of known subsidiaries, visited AR waveguide suppliers at CES 2019.” (This according to “a person with knowledge of the meetings.”) The company is said to have taken similar meetings in 2018, so there’s a chance that checking out up-and-coming AR technologies at the annual trade show is becoming a tradition for Apple.
Products like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap One use waveguides to project images onto AR glasses. Traditional VR headsets, meanwhile, rely on monitors that you wear on your face. The former is useful for making less obtrusive hardware that can overlay 3D images on the real world; the latter is more typical of immersive experiences that either don’t need to show whatever’s happening around you. (Or do so via pass-through tech.)
Checking out the latest waveguide technology at CES 2019 lends credence to the idea that Apple plans to release its own AR glasses. Doesn’t a company that values form over function—to the point of making its high-end laptops relatively easy to break and more expensive to repair—seem more likely to release AR glasses than a headset like the HTC Vive? But at this point it’s hard to figure out what Apple might be planning.
Here are some of the moves the company’s made in AR and VR in recent years—and these are just the ones that we actually know something about:
- 2015: Apple acquires Metaio, a phone-based AR company we covered at that year’s Mobile World Congress, for an undisclosed sum.
- 2017: Apple acquires SMI, a company whose eye tracking technology was used by companies like Valve and Qualcomm, for an undisclosed sum.
- 2017: Apple acquires Vrvana, which made the Totem HMD we called the best VR demo we’d ever seen, for an undisclosed sum.
- 2018: Apple acquires Akonia Holographics, which turned to AR after working on holographic data storage, for an undisclosed sum.
Those are just the company’s major acquisitions. Apple has also expanded on ARKit with new versions of iOS, and as it continues to develop its own chips for the iPhone, it has touted their AR capabilities. Plus there’s that whole thing where chief executive Tim Cook said he was excited about AR.
So chances are good that Apple’s working on some kind of AR product in the shadows.
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Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.