Apple has acquired a company that specializes in building
lenses for smart glasses that can display augmented reality
images overtop the real world.
Reuters said that Apple likely purchased the
company, Akonia Holographics, sometime earlier this year.
Akonia describes its augmented reality lenses as “thin,”
“transparent,” and capable of displaying “vibrant, full-color,
wide field-of-view images.” As of two years ago, the company
told VentureBeat that it was targeting a 60-degree
field of view — which is small and less than most virtual
reality headsets. But the company also described its lens in a
way that suggested it offered higher-resolution images than its
competitors without putting as many visual obstacles between an
eye and the real world.
Apple’s said to be working on an AR product for 2020
Apple confirmed the acquisition to Reuters in its
usual manner of not detailing why it bought the company. But
the reason is hardly a secret: Apple has been moving quickly on
developing augmented reality tech — you can already see it at
work inside the iPhone — and the company is said to be working
on an augmented reality headset, which
Bloomberg reported could come out in 2020.
Akonia’s lens tech (or its patent portfolio) will likely be a
part of whatever Apple ends up making.
Akonia has been around since 2012, but it didn’t start working
on augmented reality lenses until about two years ago.
According to VentureBeat, Akonia was first set on
creating a holographic storage medium — as best as I can tell,
it was some kind of futuristic take on CDs — but eventually, it
realized that wasn’t working. Around the same time, it also
realized that augmented reality had a good chance of taking
off, so the company changed gears and began working on lenses.
A lot of that is because of Apple. Tim Cook has publicly been
very bullish on AR, calling it “a big idea, like the
smartphone,” meaning it’s something that everyone will one day
end up using. “I think AR is that big, it’s huge,” he said.
Apple’s AR tech has been developing surprisingly fast for
what’s currently just one of many features on the iPhone and
iPad. It’s capable of locking virtual objects in place, scaling
them as you move around the room, and even letting users
interact with them and play games. Few people are actually
using this tech on a regular basis, but it seems clear that
Apple is putting the tech in place for some much bigger purpose
down the road.