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article imageApple team of 'hundreds' secretly working with virtual reality

By James Walker     Jan 31, 2016 in Technology
Apple is reportedly building its own virtual reality headset to rival devices like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The highly secretive team is said to number in the hundreds and has already assembled several prototypes.
CNET reports that the plans were exposed by the Financial Times this week. Apple intends to enter the increasingly crowded virtual reality space with its own proprietary hardware, likely to include features designed to set it apart from the crowd.
The company is said to have made several "carefully targeted acquisitions" of startup companies already working in VR. Apple recently bought Flyby media, a firm that has created technology to let mobile devices gain awareness of the world around them. Several high-profile hires have also been noted, including that of industry-leading researcher Doug Bowman.
Other people who have jumped ship to Apple include former workers at light field camera start-up Lytro and former developers of Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality technology. This represents a different area of VR that involves bringing computer-generated imagery to the user instead of the other way around, suggesting Apple may be interested in VR and AR.
The report comes just a couple of days after Apple CEO Tim Cook described virtual reality as "really cool" and hinted at possible Apple involvement with the technology. After the company's earnings call this week, Cook said to reporters: "I don't think it [VR] is a niche. It's really cool and has some interesting applications."
Apple has acquired patents that further indicate interest in VR. It has been granted patents describing a "goggle system for providing a personal media viewing experience" and a "head-mounted display apparatus for retaining a portable electronic device with display". The latter would involve inserting an iPhone into a headset and using the phone as the display.
Apple is said to have already built several working prototypes of VR headsets. No details on their features, user input methods or operation have been revealed though as the project remains under strict control at the company's Cupertino headquarters.
Even if Apple is working on the technology, it may still be many years until anything is made public. The company often toils away behind closed doors until it is certain it has something unique and compelling. Virtual reality is still in early days and it is currently hard to predict how popular it will become once devices hit the market.
If the report is correct, Apple may be planning to directly rival Facebook's Oculus, Samsung's Gear VR, the HTC Vive and others. It remains unclear when, or even if, Apple is targeting a release for the headset or how it will relate to the existing competition.
Apple has not commented on the rumours but confirmed its acquisition of VR specialists Flyby Media to the Financial Times. It said: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."
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