With small steps, Apple seems to be working towards a market entry with an augmented, mixed or virtual reality product.
On January 12th, Apple’s Israeli team was granted a new patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patent focuses on 3D depth mapping technology based on pattern matching and stereoscopic information. It consists of a system that projects a pattern of optical radiation onto an object and then, with its two image sensors, captures it and generates a pattern-based and a stereoscopic depth data with respect to the object.
The captured information can be used by a host computer as a kind of interface, enabling interaction between the user with applications running on the computer.
The acquisition of this patent comes as no surprise, as Apple has made advances in this area in the past. Back in 2013, after acquiring Primesense (Apple’s current Israeli team and the company behind Microsoft’s Kinect) Apple acquired various inventions for augmented reality and gaze control for a 3D interface, as well as several projector-related inventions, with one specifically for glasses. In 2014, Apple was granted a patent for a Transparent Electronic Device that would display images on a screen over real world viewable objects.
Later on, in 2015, Apple was granted two patents for an adaptive augmented reality projector based on one of Primesense’s innovations. It also hired Metaio, a German startup that’s been focusing on AR since it launched in 2003.
Early in 2016, Apple hired Doug Bowman, a Virginia Tech computer science professor who is an expert in augmented and virtual reality–and was part of Microsoft’s Hololens team. Later that year, Apple acquired three more patents on this subject. These patents are for controlling a display or a television through gestures, gaze and head movement.
At CES 2017, Robert Scoble, a popular American blogger, reported that Carl Zeiss’ employees confirmed they are working with Apple on a pair of AR/Mixed Reality smart glasses, which might be announced this year. Furthermore, President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Interactive Entertainment Shuhei Yoshida, in a Virtual Reality Pop Q&A, said his biggest prediction for 2017 is Apple announcing a VR/AR product.
Many eyes are on Apple, waiting for the company to announce its first product for either virtual, augmented and/or mixed reality. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has reportedly shown interest in AR. He even claimed AR, and not VR, will be the future. “We are high on AR for the long run,” Cook said in an earnings conference in July 2016. “We think there are great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.”