Apple Jumping Into Virtual Reality Marketplace

Faced with flat iPhone sales, Apple is reportedly looking at expanding into virtual reality gear to bolster its product sales and revenue.

Apple, iPhone, iPads, virtual reality, VR, augmented reality, AR, Oculus, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, VR headsets

Apple is deepening its involvement in augmented reality and virtual reality by hiring experts in both fields as it moves to find new markets to help the company maintain healthy revenue and profit streams as iPhone sales flatten.

The company's recent moves into AR and VR come after it has apparently looked into both markets over the past decade, according to a Jan. 29 story by The Wall Street Journal. In its most recent business foray into AR and VR, Apple just acquired Flyby Media, which contributed its image-recognition software to Google's Project Tango mapping efforts, the story reported.

So far, Apple has hired more than 100 people to look into the business market for AR and VR, the story reported, in an effort to determine if the company can grow sales and revenue in a market currently led by competitors such as Oculus, Samsung and Microsoft, the story reported, based on sources who asked not to be named.

The VR industry is definitely growing with possibilities lately. In January, Oculus began taking preorders for its $599 Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, which will ship starting in May. Samsung launched its own $100 Gear VR virtual reality headset last fall. The Samsung Gear VR is a consumer version of virtual reality headsets made by Oculus. The Gear VR works with Samsung's latest smartphone models—the Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+, S6 and S6 Edge.

Apple has not yet built VR devices. Instead it has been a dominant player in the smartphone and tablet markets with its iPhones and iPads, which until the last year or so had been gaining in sales each year. As iPhone sales flatten and iPad sales drop, the company is looking for its next big thing in the consumer and business markets.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook recently called VR "really cool" and said it "has some interesting applications" in a conference call with analysts, the Journal reported.

Apple has been building its VR and AR unit by poaching industry experts from other companies as it looks for new business opportunities, according to a Jan. 29 story by The Financial Times. "The secret research unit includes hundreds of staff from a series of carefully targeted acquisitions, as well as employees poached from companies that are working on next-generation headset technologies including Microsoft and camera start-up Lytro," the paper reported. According to the story, Apple has been building prototypes of such units for several months.

The AR and VR efforts follow Apple's other ongoing acquisitions in a wide variety of industries. In January, Apple acquired emotion-detection startup Emotient, which provides data about customer attention, engagement and sentiment by analyzing a user's facial expressions and detecting their feelings with its cloud-based services, according to the company's Website.

In November 2015, Apple confirmed that it had acquired motion-capture technology startup Faceshift, which builds applications that capture human facial expressions as animated avatars or characters. Faceshift's motion-capturing technology has been used in the making of earlier Star Wars movies.

In October 2015, Apple bought Perceptio, an artificial intelligence startup that works on ideas that could be integrated into future iPhones. Perceptio's technology helps smartphone owners more easily organize and store photos on their iPhones, making them easier to find and use.

In September 2015, Apple reportedly acquired Mapsense, a mapping visualization startup, for $25 million to $30 million to bolster its mapping assets as it continues to develop better map tools in iOS 9 and other Apple products, according to another eWEEK report.

In May, Apple acquired Coherent Navigation, a Silicon Valley startup that has been using the Iridium satellite network to develop a commercial, high-precision navigation service for a wide range of industries.

In April, Apple paid about $20 million to acquire LinX Computational Imaging, an Israel-based company that focuses on designing and selling tiny cameras for use in mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.