Facebook, Apple and the Coming Augmented Reality Land Grab

Two new reports suggest that two of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are secretly working on augmented reality (AR) technology. It may take some time before Apple is going to reveal its efforts in the space, but Facebook may give us a glance at its AR research as early as next month.

That’s when the company is holding its f8 developer conference in San Jose, California — an event that could double as a coming out for Facebook’s secretive “Building 8” R&D unit. Officially unveiled by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in April of 2016, Building 8 is tasked with building hardware products that “advance our mission of connecting the world,” as Zuckerberg put it.

The group is headed by DARPA and Google veteran Regina Dugan, and has been working on four separate projects, including brain scanning, cameras, drones and augmented reality, according to a Business Insider report. Building 8 is expected to play a big role at f8, according to that report, and job listings indicate that the company has been hiring to sell hardware products in retail stores in the near future.

Apple’s augmented reality efforts may take a bit longer to reach consumers, but they could be just as ambitious, if not more so. The company has a group working on AR technology that includes former Oculus and HoloLens engineers, according to a new Bloomberg report. Some of the projects of that group include AR glasses that overlay digital imagery and information over a person’s view of the real world, as well as efforts to bring AR to the iPhone.

Apple has yet to publicly acknowledge its AR work, but CEO Tim Cook has on multiple occasions talked enthusiastically about the potential of the technology. For Apple, AR wouldn’t just be an attempt to once again release a genre-defining product, something the company hasn’t been able to do since the release of the iPad in 2010.

The company also wants to prevent to lose out in an area where others are making major investments. In addition to Facebook, AR has also gotten a lot of attention from Google, which already has AR-enabled phones in the market. Microsoft has also been an early pioneer in AR with its HoloLens headset, and is now looking to gain market share for devices that combine AR and VR.

And then there is magic Leap, the much-hyped and heavily funded AR startup that is expected top unveil its first consumer hardware soon. All of these efforts suggest that many companies believe that AR could be the next big thing — and Apple and Facebook clearly don’t want to be left behind when the AR land grab begins.

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