Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) already announced it is going all-in on augmented reality with ARKit in iOS 11. The company has also been rumored to be working on AR glasses, as well — hardware that would take its AR ambitions to another level. To that end, AAPL has now acquired SensoMotoric Instruments, a German company specializing in eye-tracking technology used for AR headsets and glasses.
It appears the pieces are falling into place for Apple to make a push for augmented reality to be the next big thing, and it seems increasingly likely that Apple AR glasses will be a part of that.
AAPL Acquires SensoMotoric Instruments
MacRumors was first to break the news that AAPL appeared to have purchased SensoMotoric Instruments. After receiving an anonymous tip from someone who had spoken to an AAPL employee about the alleged deal, the website followed a trail of legal filings involving a shell company (a tactic often employed as part of any Apple acquisition). The name of Apple’s VP of Corporate Law on documentation that was notarized in Cupertino gave things away.
And while APPL declined to officially confirm the latest Apple acquisition, it did release a statement to website Axios:
“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”
That is the boilerplate “non-confirmation” AAPL releases very time it acquires a company. Based on that statement and the legal trail leading back to Cupertino, it’s safe to assume we are looking at another Apple acquisition.
SensoMotoric Technology Could Result in Apple AR Glasses
With its new ARKit augmented reality development platform, AAPL is planning to take AR mainstream in iOS 11. But the experience will be limited to what an iPhone or iPad camera “sees” and what its display can show.
That should work well for many applications. The approach has already been proven with successes like Pokemon Go, and Swedish furniture giant IKEA is talking up a forthcoming app that would use the technology to overlay photorealistic furniture models over a view of rooms in customers’ homes.
However, to get really immersive augmented reality, a headset is required. That’s the approach to AR that Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) is taking with its HoloLens. To match that experience — making its augmented reality tech suitable for applications like serious gaming, education, medical and commercial purposes — AAPL needs to move beyond the iPhone screen and offer Apple AR glasses.
And that’s where SensoMotoric’s technology can come in.
The German company is no startup. It has been in business since 1991 and specializes in eye tracking technology, both hardware and software. Products include SMI eye tracking glasses that record the wearer’s gaze in real-time. SensoMotoric offers solutions with high refresh rates to reduce motion lag and help combat motion sickness in VR applications. In short, it has much of the missing tech needed to take AAPL’s augmented reality ambitions from ARKit on the iPhone to actual Apple AR glasses for high demand applications.
Will SensoMotoric Technology Show up in iOS 11?
Apple announced at WWDC 2017 that it will be releasing iOS 11 with ARKit support in September. That will no doubt prime the pump for augmented reality on Apple devices — and the AR industry as a whole. As The Verge notes, no other company — including Microsoft or Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) — is positioned to make AR take off with consumers the way Apple will be.
However, there are only a few months between now and September. AAPL has reportedly had over 1,000 engineers hard at work on its AR project(s). It’s unlikely that there’s time to integrate any of SensoMotoric’s software into ARKit that quickly, although it will undoubtedly be useful over time.
And given AAPL’s interest in augmented reality, the latest Apple acquisition could well play a key role in developing the Apple AR glasses that everyone has been waiting for. Just not in 2017…
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.