The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR have been dominating the virtual reality conversation with immersive 3D experiences, but not a word has come from Apple, the biggest tech company on the planet. That may change, as the tech giant is reportedly doing a lot of work on VR behind the scenes.
The latest sign that something VR-related might be in the works in Cupertino comes from a Financial Times report claiming that Apple has put together a stealth VR team. Apple put together its VR team by buying companies and luring employees from rival firms. The FT report also says that Apple has even built prototypes of possible VR headsets.
That FT report follows news from earlier this month that Apple hired leading virtual reality researcher Doug Bowman. Besides winning awards from the IEEE for technical achievements in virtual reality, Bowman has also consulted for the Imagineering group at Walt Disney theme parks and received a $100,00 grant from Microsoft to use its Hololens AR headset in a study.
At the same time, Apple appears to be snapping up VR-focused companies. The FT reports today (Jan. 29) that Apple bought Flyby Media, which works with smartphone-based 3D mapping. Previous Apple acquisitions reportedly include Emotient, software that identifies emotions; Metaio, an augmented reality company; and Faceshift, a motion capture company. Apple has also been awarded patents for VR devices, though it's anybody's guess if those will ever come to market.
Bowman isn't the first VR hire in Cupertino — as far back as November 2014, Apple has had job listings for candidates to "create high performance apps that integrate with virtual reality systems."
Apple hasn't made any announcements about VR or AR projects, though it's a project that has been long rumored aside a potential Apple car. During a briefing with Wall Street analysts this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed interest in VR as something more than a niche technology. "It's really cool and has some interesting applications,” Cook said. If the company is working on a VR device, it will likely stay under wraps until an Apple keynote.