Apple Steps Up Its VR Efforts with Acquisition of Flyby Media

While Facebook, Google and Microsoft have already invested significant resources in developing virtual reality and augmented reality, Apple is just getting started. The tech giant acquired an augmented reality startup called Flyby Media, which develops technology for image-recognition on smartphones. Flyby Media previously worked with Google on “Project Tango.” Apple also hired Doug Bowman, an expert in human-computer interaction and immersion in virtual environments.

Virtual and augmented reality technology is the next big platform for movies, games, social networks, and more. Linc Gasking, co-founder of VR software company 8i, told The New York Times, “Apple currently owns the computer in your pocket, and it needs to be part of the next big user interface if it wants to retain that ownership.”

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According to the research firm PitchBook, investors have put almost $4 billion into virtual reality startups since 2010. One of the biggest buys was Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus for $2 billion. Apple has made two small acquisitions of AR startups in the past year, reports TechCrunch. In addition to Flyby Media, the company also bought the AR company Metaio and the motion capture company Faceshift.

Apple may also be bringing some new VR and AR hardware to the mix. Google already makes a simple VR viewing device called Google Cardboard and Microsoft created an AR headset called the HoloLens. Meanwhile, Apple has a patent from 2008 for a virtual reality headset, but the Financial Times reports the company has been experimenting with prototypes in recent months.

The new hire will also bring some AR/VR experience to the Apple team. Doug Bowman was the director of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech. He is also the lead author of a book on 3D user interfaces.