Out of all the big tech companies—Microsoft, Facebook, Google, just to name a few—Apple is the only one that hasn’t publicly announced an interest in virtual or augmented reality technology. All the others listed above are known to be currently working on AR and VR tech.
Still, its lack of announcements hasn’t stopped the Cupertino company from snapping up entire VR/AR companies. In the last year it has acquired augmented reality startup Metaio, real-time motion capture developer Faceshift, and expression analysis startup Emotient. And now, reports the Financial Times, Apple has hired one of the country’s leading augmented and virtual reality researchers: Virginia Tech computer science professor Doug Bowman.
Bowman, who has worked at Virginia Tech since 1999, is the author of numerous books and papers on virtual and augmented reality, including being the lead author of the book 3D User Interfaces: Theory and Practice. His past papers have included “The Effects of Visual Realism on Search Tasks in Mixed Reality Simulation,” “Virtual Reality: How Much Immersion Is Enough?” and “3D User Interfaces: New Directions and Perspectives.”
In addition to his books and articles, Bowman has served as the director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction since 2011 and past gigs have included serving as the general chair of the IEEE Virtual Reality Conference between 2007-2008 and serving as a user experience consultant for Walt Disney Imagineering. Most recently, Bowman was one of the first recipients of a $100,000 HoloLens research grant from Microsoft for a study on “collaborative analysis of large-scale mixed reality data,” says the Financial Times.
So what could Bowman be working on at Apple? The short answer is “no one knows.” But as MacRumors points out, in recent years Apple has had an increase in the number of patent filings related to either AR or VR tech, “including video goggles, motion-sensing 3D virtual interfaces for iOS, and 3D ‘hyper reality’ displays. It’s also been reported that the company has a ‘small team’ working on virtual reality projects,” the site says.
With its increased interest in AR and VR tech, along with its acquisition of companies specializing in the field as well as the hire of Bowman, it’s probably only a matter of time until we see Apple enter into the growing consumer virtual and augmented reality markets.