Despite early reactions to Google Glass, augmented reality (AR) is on its way. All major technology companies, from Samsung to Microsoft, have invested hundreds of millions in what is sure to be the future of technology.
Is Apple missing the boat?
Or are they just keeping their plans hidden from plain sight?
And the Future Is…Augmented
While Google Glass inspired everything from awe to fear and revulsion, Microsoft’s recent computer headset received nothing but praise. The HoloLens will run on Windows Holographic, a new platform specifically designed for an AR interface.
So what’s the difference between AR and VR?
Virtual reality is completely immersive. The Oculus Rift headset is an example of VR technology. The wearer is completely immersed in a 360-degree world that has nothing to do with the world around. Gamers and certain industries would be ideal targets for VR hardware.
Augmented reality exists alongside the outside world. These types of interfaces will employ, for the most part, interactive holograms. Much like the character played by Tom Cruise in the movie Minority Report, we’ll be able to wear a simple heads-up display and interact with a holographic interface that will be superimposed on the world around.
As mentioned, all the major tech companies are investing in AR and VR:
Microsoft is releasing the HoloLens. The aforementioned HoloLens was unveiled by surprise at a recent Microsoft event. When Matt Rosoff tried out the headset, he was able to play Minecraft on a coffee table, draw diagrams that appeared to the party on the other end of the line, and even visit Mars.
Google is releasing Google Glass into the world. Rumors of Google Glass’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Google’s heads-up display has been removed from Google’s research division, but development and marketing will continue.
Google also released Google Cardboard, a basic-yet-innovative way to turn an Android phone into a VR headset. With basic materials – namely cardboard – and a few other essential items, anyone can slip their phone inside a cardboard headset and turn it into a VR display.
Facebook bought Oculus. The aforementioned VR company was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion. And turning this VR technology into augmented reality technology is certainly not a stretch of the imagination.
Samsung wants to put a keyboard on your fingers. Last year, Samsung patented an AR keyboard that allows people to use their thumbs to type on their fingers. This fueled rumors that Samsung was developing a “Galaxy Glass” rival to Google Glass.
And late last year, Samsung unveiled the Gear VR headset. This Oculus-powered setup uses a Galaxy Note 4 to provide the content for the headset. Like Google Cardboard and other experiments with VR technology, you simply open up the headset, insert your phone, and strap yourself in.
Magic Leap, a startup that raised $542 million, uses proprietary hardware and software to develop “3D light sculptures.” The CEO of Legendary Pictures tried this technology out and told Fast Company, “This changes everything.”
So with all this investment in AR and VR, where does Apple stand?
Apple has been acquiring relevant VR and AR patents for nearly ten years. As early as 2006, they patented a heads-up display design. And in 2012, they patented a system that allows users to interact directly with holograms.
While some feel that Apple is missing the AR boat, other information suggests that Apple isn’t as far behind as it seems. As reported by 9to5Mac.com, Apple posted several job listings for app engineers who could build VR experiences. These job listings were quickly taken down, but not before screenshots were taken.
The job listings required experience with everything from “state-of-the-art physics-based world simulation” to experience with AR programming and game engine experience. Following a year behind Apple’s patent for a “goggle system for providing a personal media viewing experience,” it is quite obvious that Apple is actively pursuing the AR track.
At least one third-party company is already using the iPhone to develop a VR interface. The approach that Pinć takes is unique and innovative: the headset actually doubles as an iPhone case. Simply open up the case and strap the iPhone to your face…
Pinć uses the iPhone’s camera and hand-held controllers to track gestures. The company will focus primarily on casual app interfaces and retail, as opposed to gaming.
Right now AR and VR appears to be anyone’s game. And, despite the rumors, it does look like Apple’s on the AR bandwagon. With the imminent release of the Apple Watch and associated technologies, from beacons to heart monitors, Apple won’t be far behind when it decides to unveil its first heads-up display.