Apple buys startup designing augmented reality glasses

Apple launched augmented reality apps on its iPads last year – REUTERS

Apple has snapped up a company developing augmented reality glasses, as it intensifies its effort to find the next big knockout product to rival the smartphone. 

The technology firm confirmed it had bought Colorado-based Akonia Holographics, although declined to give further detail on the purchase, saying: “Apple buys smaller companies from time to time, and we generally don’t discuss our purpose or plans.”

Augmented reality differs from virtual reality in that it overlays digital content onto the real world, instead of immersing a user in a ‘virtual’ environment. It is an area an increasing number of the US tech giants are investing in. 

Microsoft has already launched its HoloLens headsets, while Amazon is also said to be looking into how it could use the technology. Apple last year rolled out augmented reality applications for its devices.

Chief executive Tim Cook signaled this would be a focus for the Silicon Valley giant going forward, saying augmented reality was a “big and profound” technology development.

“This is one of those huge things that we’ll look back at and marvel on the start of it,” Mr Cook said on an investor call. 

Bloomberg, late last year, reported that the iPhone maker was preparing to roll out an augmented reality headset or device as soon as 2020 and said the development timeline for the devices was very aggressive.

Akonia, which was founded in 2012, creates displays for augmented reality glasses, and claims its technology allows “thin, transparent smart glass lenses that display vibrant, full-color, wide field-of-view images”. 

In buying the business, Apple will be able to overcome a major hurdle faced by those developing AR devices: how to make the technology light and thin enough to fit inside regular glasses frames, and easy to mass produce. 

Google’s own efforts to roll out its Glass devices, back in 2015, were hampered by the clunky design, as well as the high price tag.

The acquisition could provide some comfort to investors who may be concerned that phone ownership is reaching saturation point.

The number of smartphones shipped globally in 2017 was up 1.3pc year on year, compared to the 3.3pc rise recorded for 2016 and 12.3pc increase in 2015. 

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