Apple has assembled a secret team of several hundred virtual and augmented reality experts, according to a Financial Times report. The team has been prototyping devices that could compete with Microsoft’s Hololens augmented reality headset as well as Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset.
Some of the hires are part of acquisitions; Apple purchased the Israeli motion-sensing startup Primesense in 2013, and the German augmented reality startup Metaio in 2015. More recently, Apple acquired the augmented reality startup Flyby media, according to the report.
Apple has also stepped up its hiring in the space. It made headlines earlier this month for hiring noted virtual and augmented reality researcher Doug Bowman. But the company has also quietly hired talent away from camera maker Lytro, as well as Microsoft’s Hololens team, according to the Financial Times.
Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed to signal interest in VR during the company’s most recent earnings call earlier this week, saying: “I don’t think it’s a niche. It’s really cool and has some interesting applications.”
However, development itself doesn’t actually indicate that Apple will ever launch a product in this space. The company has frequently spent significant resources on products that never launched, including a TV set.
It’s also possible that Apple will use some of its augmented reality research as part of the car project it has been working on. Metaio in particular is known to have worked with a number of car manufacturers, and augmented reality could for example be used to project information onto a see-through display to keep drivers informed without the ned to take the eyes off the road.