Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman in a new report Monday offered a deeper insight into Apple’s next big thing—the company’s secretive efforts related to augmented reality (AR) technologies which reportedly include an iPhone-connected digital spectacles that the news organization previously said would launch in 2018.
Citing people with knowledge of Apple’s plans, the report states that the company’s built a team combining the strengths of its hardware and software veterans with the expertise of talented outsiders. The group is allegedly being run by former Dolby Laboratories executive Mike Rockwell and includes engineers who worked on Facebook’s Oculus and Microsoft’s HoloLens virtual reality headsets “as well as digital-effects wizards from Hollywood.”
Hundreds of engineers are now focused on the project.
The report states that the glasses “are a ways off” though some of the aforementioned AR features could show up in the next iPhone sooner.
One of the features of Apple’s digital spectacles could allow the user to take a picture and then change the depth of the photograph or the depth of specific objects in the picture later. Another feature would isolate an object in the image, like a person’s head, and allow it to be tilted 180 degrees. Yet another feature in development could add special effects and put virtual objects on a person akin to Snapchat.
Apple’s CEO is reportedly “very serious” about AR and has embarked the firm on an ambitious bid to bring the technology to the masses to ensure it “dominates the next generation of gadgetry and keep people wedded to its ecosystem.”
Rather than completely enclose the user in virtual worlds, Apple’s digital glasses would overlay images, video and games on the real world like Microsoft’s HoloLens. The accessory would connect to an iPhone like Apple Watch and use its processor to render and show content in augmented reality, including movies, maps and more.
Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition.
This would consume a lot of power so battery life and availability of AR-enabled apps and games will be crucial. The glasses will require a new operating system from Apple, joining iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS, and maybe even a dedicated chip.
Apple’s AR team includes the following experts:
- Mike Rockwell—Charged with leading Apple’s AR group. Rockwell previously ran Dolby’s hardware and new technologies groups and advised Meta, a small firm that makes $950 AR glasses and counts Dolby as an investor. He reports to Dan Riccio, who’s in charge of the iPhone and iPad hardware engineering groups.
- Fletcher Rothkopf—Helped lead the team that designed Apple Watch.
- Tomlinson Holman—Created THX audio popularized by LucasFilm.
- Cody White—He led Amazon’s Lumberyard virtual reality platform.
- Duncan McRoberts—Meta’s former director of software development.
- Yury Petrov—Former Oculus researcher.
- Avi Bar-Zeev—Worked on Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Google Earth app.
- Other experts in everything from 3D video production to wearable hardware.
- iPhone, camera and optical lens engineers.
- People with experience in sourcing the raw materials for the glasses.
The AR team’s lead, Rothkopf, is “a really sharp guy” who could certainly “put a team together that could get an Apple AR project going,” said Jack McCauley, who co-founded and worked at Oculus before it was sold to Facebook in 2015.
Apple also opened an office in Wellington, New Zealand and hired away several employees from the special-effects firm Weta Digital that worked on King Kong, Avatar, The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies and other films.
Gurman has learned that former Metaio CEO Thomas Alt (Apple bought his firm in 2015) now works on Apple’s strategic deals team which decides which technologies to invest in. Last year, Apple also bought FlyBy Media, an AR startup that lets mobile devices “see” the world around them. “Cook even visited the offices of Magic Leap last summer and displayed interest in the secretive company’s AR technology,” as per Gurman.
Apple is working on several AR products, stated Bloomberg.
Apple’s boss Tim Cook opined that at some point, we will all “have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you.“