Apple CEO Tim Cook this week said virtual reality "has some interesting applications," so much so the company has already compiled a secret team of hundreds of people to work on the technology, according to the Financial Times. The team was created, the FT says, through calculated acquisitions and the poaching of virtual and augmented reality experts from competitors like Microsoft and camera companies like Lytro. The group marks Apple's second under-the-wraps foray into virtual reality, having once tried in the mid-2000s under former CEO Steve Jobs before scrapping the project because the technology wasn't advanced enough yet, according to the FT.
Apple's latest acquisition is Flyby Media, an AR startup focused on helping phones "see" the world that worked closely with Google on Project Tango, its mobile 3D mapping division. Other key buys include startups Metaio, Faceshift, and PrimeSense, which gave Apple expertise into virtual and augmented projection techniques, computer vision, and motion capture. Apple has reportedly been building prototype VR headsets for several months. It's unclear right now whether those devices would encase an iPhone, like Samsung and Oculus' Gear VR and Google's Cardboard, or be a standalone unit like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.
Apple has been building prototype headsets for several months
The news shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Apple is known to toil away in secret for years on ideas that may never see the light of day, only to begin aggressively ramping up hiring and R&D as Apple has in the last year with its Project Titan electric car project. A number of VR and AR-related patents and job listings from Apple have also sprouted up in the last couple of years, and the company just last week hired VR researcher Doug Bowman, who also serves as the director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech.