While the world is waiting for the next iPhone, Apple is secretly building a unit of experts to bring its augmented reality (AR) to the physical world. The Cupertino company has already hired some prominent faces from the emerging AR space and acquired some of the active startups working on developing augmentation on top real-world environments.
The hiring trend of AR experts began at Apple in 2015. The iPhone maker reportedly took the talent from companies such as Microsoft and Lytro as well as convinced some researchers to kick-start the new chapter successfully. Moreover, CEO Tim Cook is presumably overviewing the progress personally to help the team with sufficient resources.
Cook highlighted AR as a "big and profound" consideration for Apple during a recent earnings call. "I think AR is big and profound. This is one of those huge things that we'll look back at and marvel at the start of it," the executive had told analysts while announcing the third fiscal quarter results in early August.
New talent on board
Digging into professional accounts on LinkedIn reveals that Apple has started been hiring new talent for its AR journey since February 2015. The first hiring by the company was of former Dolby executive Mike Rockwell. After handling the product and technology at Dolby and working as the CTO of video editing software provider Avid, Rockwell joined Apple in 2015.
In 2016, Apple expanded its AR-specific recruitments and brought experts like YuryPetrov from Facebook-owned Oculus and Zeyu Li from Magic Leap. Petrov is working as a research scientist at Apple since June 2016, whereas Li joined the Tim Cook squad as a senior computer vision algorithm engineer in September 2016.
The team of fresh talent is apparently working under few senior Apple employees. Fletcher Rothkopf, who led the Watch team previously, is one of those experienced faces. The LinkedIn profile of Rothkopf shows that he has been leading the team of AR experts since January 2016.
According to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, Apple has covered all the key areas around the augmented experience by adding engineers working on iPhone, camera and optical lenses. There are also people like former Microsoft leader Avi Bar-Zeev who has a total experience of over 25 years in AR and VR space -- with at least 50 patents. Bar-Zeev co-founded Keyhole in 1999 that Google bought and renamed Google Earth and even worked for a couple of years withthe HoloLens team at Microsoft.
The AR unit at Apple additionally comprises of resources from acquisitions such as Metaio, FlyBy Media and Prime Sense. This additional support would help the company test its developments internally for a longer period, before bringing out publicly.
Furthermore, the acquired resources enable Apple to build solutions such as ARKit, which comes along with the next iOS platform. The API helps developers build "detailed and compelling" virtual content on top of real environments.
Apple's specific plans with AR are yet to be surfaced. However, a recent patent filing suggested that the company would begin its new vertical with smart glasses. The undisclosed innovation is likely to bring a mixture of Google Glass and Microsoft's HoloLens sometime next year.